STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Let me first state that I am not a conspiracy theorist. Let me also state that I don't attend every practice, scrimmage, meeting and workout session that involves Penn State football (In that, I am not alone). But as a beat writer I am privy to certain events and information and thus have some insider knowledge of what occurs behind the iron curtain at the Lasch Building.
I am speaking, of course, about the quarterback decision that was announced earlier this week and the fallout since. One man and his people are happy (Daryll Clark) and another (Pat Devlin) and his people are disappointed -- among other emotions. There have been accusations that the competition was stacked in favor of Clark and that Devlin, a Downingtown product, had no chance despite what was fed to all involved. Before I give my take, let me preface again that I don't know close to everything that occurred during practices, etc., but I do know things and have heard things, in the immortal words of Robert DeNiro's Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull.
Up until the so-called competition began, Clark had played minimally until the Alamo Bowl. People seemed to forget that he was inserted for several plays in the regular season finale against Michigan State. The results were disastrous -- and pretty much not to his fault -- as he was dropped for one loss on a run and tossed an incomplete on another play. Against Texas A&M in the bowl game, he ran very well, scurrying for 50 yards and a touchdown on six carries. Devlin, meanwhile, had yet to play a meaningful down.
When spring practice opened up in March the quarterback race was called a toss up, although writers were already predicting Clark had the job based off the Alamo Bowl and Joe Paterno's penchant for almost always going with the older guy. On March 29, for the first time since anyone could remember, the media was permitted to attend a full practice. It was less than a week into practice, but Devlin clearly looked more polished throwing the ball inside Holuba Hall. Each quarterback took equals reps with the first team, or so it seemed.
Two weeks later, the media again was allowed to attend a practice for the Coaches Clinic scrimmage at Beaver Stadium. Clark, this time, had the upper hand. Devlin had a few errant throws and threw one interception. But he took most of his snaps with the second team against the first team defense while Clark ran mostly with the first team against the second team defense. A week later, when asked about this Devlin said, "I never really said anything to the coaches about it. [The reps] haven't been like that all spring. On Monday, Daryll and I went back to splitting reps. I don't know what went on there."
This was pretty much how it was set up for the Blue-White game, with Clark on the first team going against the No. 2 defense and Devlin with the twos (and sometimes with the ones) against the No. 1 defense. Clark was 9 of 16 for 106 yards and two TDs. Devlin was 12 of 18 for 122 and a TD.
About a month later, Paterno met with the media in King of Prussia for a Nittany Lion Club fundraiser and it appeared that the coach tipped his hand as to who the starter would be. After that, all was fairly quiet until Media Day on Aug. 8 when Paterno said he still wasn't close to deciding. I watched 15 minutes of practice, but the players were mostly running through plays. Devlin, meanwhile, said he expected a fair competition. His father, Mark, knew his son, as a sophomore, would have to do more to supplant an upperclassman. As preseason practice continued, a few of my trusty little birdies told me it was still close, although Devlin had a shaky day in the first scrimmage. Clark, though, wasn't blowing anyone away with his accuracy. Paterno said the decision was essentially made last Friday.
Clark and Devlin were informed of Paterno's decision on Monday. The coach hasn't made it clear what will happen beyond tomorrow's game -- in which both players will run with the first team -- although it appears the starting job is Clark's to lose. Ultimately what should decide who plays -- or if there is a platoon -- is how each performs in game-time conditions. Only then will the coaches really see how each acts under duress. Until there is some clarity -- and maybe there never will be -- this story isn't going to bed. Trust me.