Last big game for PSU QB Clark

Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark (17) looks downfield to throw a pass during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

December 31, 2009 8:10:55 AM PST
His hands cocked back with the football, Daryll Clark weaved around practice field obstacles as if he were getting ready to fire another touchdown pass.

It was the start of the last practice before the last game of his record-setting Penn State career, yet a nagging question hovers over the charismatic star quarterback.

Does Clark need to perform well and lead the No. 11 Nittany Lions to a win over No. 13 LSU in Friday's Capital One Bowl to quiet critics who say he doesn't produce in big games?

"It's not getting to me, but it's an unfair statement to the rest of the team. It's to the point where the team has been talking about it ... seeing it on the Internet," Clark said after Wednesday's practice. "That's not why we're down here ... we're not here to cement my so-called legacy."

Clark and linebacker Sean Lee met with reporters one final time as Penn State captains, role models for players who want to learn how to lead a football team.

Lee, a fifth-year senior, is the last player on the roster to have played in the Orange Bowl win over Florida State that capped the program's comeback 2005 season.

Clark already has left a lasting imprint on the record books, holding school marks for most touchdown passes in a season (23 in 2009) and a career (42). He also owns the Penn State record for career rushing scores by a quarterback (22).

Though not as experienced or polished as Clark, LSU has a similar run-pass threat at QB with sophomore Jordan Jefferson.

"They're both very talented, both run well, throw well," said Tigers defensive coordinator John Chavis. "Personally I'd prefer to play a quarterback who can't run or throw, but we won't get a chance to do that."

A communications major, Clark is well aware of the attention that comes with playing quarterback at Penn State - one of the most high-profile and high-pressure jobs in Pennsylvania.

So it's little surprise that some fans and columnists have been parsing over a career in which he is 21-4 as starting quarterback.

But it's his performances in those four losses - all big games - that irk detractors.

He completed 45 percent of his passes in those four losses, with more than twice as many interceptions (seven) as touchdowns (three). For his career, though, he's a 61 percent passer with 16 picks to go with his 42 TD throws.

Clark has played well in other high-profile games. He has thrown for eight touchdown passes in his two games against Michigan State, including four in the regular season-ending victory in 2008 to clinch the Big Ten title.

He ran for two touchdowns and threw for one in last season's prime-time blowout win at Wisconsin, and threw for four scores this season at Michigan - ending Penn State's five-game losing skid at the Big House.

"The media, they determine what's a big game and what's not," Clark said. "I feel like, and the team feels like, we've won a lot of tough games and big games. Maybe not all of them, but a lot of them."

In a sense, the "big-game" question nagging Clark is similar to the criticism about Penn State's season. The Nittany Lions are an impressive 10-2, though their two losses came against the only ranked foes they faced all season - Iowa and Ohio State.

Clark said the team doesn't buy talk that Penn State needs a signature win over LSU to put a bow on an otherwise nice season.

He did allow himself to say, "We wanted a big-time team, preferably like an SEC team like LSU ... We have that, now we have a chance to go out and get a big win for the program."


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