CHICAGO - Daryll Clark came out of nowhere last season to throw for more than 2,500 yards, quarterback Penn State to the Big Ten championship, and make first-team all-conference.
To hear coach Joe Paterno explain it, Clark "came out of nowhere because of me," and that wasn't good.
In a candid admission yesterday at the Big Ten football media day, Paterno admitted he made a mistake in not playing Clark more in 2007, when Clark was a sophomore backup to senior Anthony Morelli.
Clark, who threw only nine passes that year, was pretty much invisible until the season-ending Alamo Bowl, when he came on in the first quarter to provide a spark. The Nittany Lions rallied from a 14-0 deficit and defeated Texas A&M, with Clark providing 50 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Paterno said quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno kept trying to persuade him to play Clark more that season, but he didn't want to shake the confidence of Morelli, who took his share of criticism that season as Penn State went 4-4 in the Big Ten.
"He hadn't played a lot of football before last year, and that probably was my fault," Paterno said of Clark. "Jay wanted to play Clark more. I thought it would discourage [Morelli], and he had the potential to be a good quarterback. I blew that one."
Meeting with the media after his formal news conference, Paterno said: "With Morelli, I felt if I started playing the other kid it would hurt his confidence, and I probably made a mistake."
Clark said that hearing Paterno's admission "meant a lot [because] it lets me know he was thinking about me and putting me in the mix."
"It was a huge vote of confidence for me," he said of the Alamo Bowl. "It boosted my confidence and made me realize that, 'All right, in the 2008 season, you have a shot to be the quarterback here.' "
Clark wound up beating out Pat Devlin in preseason for the quarterback job, and Devlin left the team at the end of the regular season, eventually transferring to Delaware.
"The fact that [Paterno] played me in the heat of the battle meant a lot going in," Clark said. "I didn't know I was going to start or anything because we had a good quarterback in Pat Devlin competing for the same job. Joe thought I had a little better camp and awarded me the job, and the rest is history."
Clark led the Lions to a 10-2 record, 7-1 in the Big Ten. He threw 19 touchdown passes against only six interceptions.
Now all the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Clark has to do is put up similar or better numbers this season with inexperience on the offensive line and at wide receiver, and with no experienced depth - one true freshman, one redshirt freshman - at quarterback behind him.
Paterno said Clark must "get better at the little things he does well." He also would like him not to run as much.
"He's become a good quarterback," he said. "If he gets to the next level, it'll be a question of discipline. You can't run all over. [Opponents] are not going to let him, or else he'll be sitting next to me with a headache" on the sideline.
Clark, noting the three concussions he has suffered in his career, including one last year at Ohio State, is keen on the idea of self-preservation.
"That's the plan," he said. "I've got to live to fight another down. I have to really watch it. Sometimes I have to slide. Sometimes I have to step out of bounds. You have to consider that to be durable throughout the season."
Clark participated last week in the Elite 11 Quarterback Camp in Aliso Viejo, Calif., as one of seven counselors who play either college or pro football working with a select group of high school quarterbacks.
Camp counselors also worked on their own games and critiqued one another. The group included Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, recent collegians Mark Sanchez of Southern Cal and Chase Daniel of Missouri, and current players such as Texas' Colt McCoy and Illinois' Juice Williams, who was Clark's roommate.
"He talked about how tough it was to play in that white-out last year" at Beaver Stadium, Clark said.