Friendship helps rival quarterbacks Clark, Williams cope in tough times

PITTSBURGH - A late-night telephone conversation following Penn State's 21-10 loss to Iowa helped quarterback Daryll Clark cope with his disappointment and press forward.

On the other end of the line was Illinois quarterback Juice Williams. He, too, was discouraged after his poor performance - in Illinois' 30-0 loss to Ohio State - earlier Saturday.

"That [conversation] was really helpful after a football game," Clark said. "There are a lot of things going through your head. He told me to keep my head up, because he's been in certain situations like that before."

Clark and Williams will try to redeem themselves when Penn State plays Illinois at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.

The opponents became friends this past summer when they served as counselors for the Elite 11 quarterback camp - attended by the nation's top high school quarterbacks - in California. The two were roommates and have kept in touch ever since.

"He struggled this weekend, and so did I," Williams said. "He and myself are looking to bounce back this Saturday."

Following Penn State's loss, Williams sent Clark a text message that prompted the phone call.

"He told me, 'Give me a call when you get a chance; I'm kind of feeling how you're feeling,' " Clark said.

The seniors were feeling the effects of their worst outings of the season. Clark threw three interceptions and took a safety when he fumbled in the end zone. Williams was picked off twice and threw for only 77 yards.

So, Clark and Williams talked through their mistakes and helped each other move forward.

"As a quarterback of a football team, it's important that we have a short-term memory," Clark said.

As the leaders of their respective offenses, Clark and Williams feel the pressure to rebound. As quarterbacks, they are depended on. As captains, they are looked up to.

"As one of the older guys on the team, I'm a guy that most people turn to in adverse situations," Williams said. "That's still the role that I have to fill."

Williams is one of the most respected players in the Illinois locker room, but he is losing the support from fans he once had. After taking the Fighting Illini to the Rose Bowl as a sophomore and leading the Big Ten in passing last season, there were big expectations for Williams this season.

The dual-threat quarterback has yet to account for a touchdown - rushing or passing - and has thrown three interceptions.

The Illini are 1-2, and he hasn't lived up to the hype, which has triggered a lot of criticism.

"I think he hit it on the head when I talked to him Saturday," Clark said. "No matter what happened, everybody has to point the fingers somewhere, and it's definitely going to start with the quarterback."

Clark was free from finger-pointing until Saturday night. He threw eight touchdowns through three games and was impressive, despite playing behind an inexperienced offensive line.

Then, he threw two costly fourth-quarter interceptions against Iowa and the tables started to turn. Suddenly, Clark was being doubted, just like Williams.

"I asked him, how does he handle it?" Williams said. "He said whenever he hears something somebody said or reads something really negative, he'll print it out and put it in his locker or hang it at home. He'll read it every day and use it as motivation. It's not like he's trying to make those turnovers. He's out there putting an effort into every play." *