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Lions finish off 9-4 year, build momentum for ’08

December 30, 2007
By Neil Rudel
SAN ANTONIO — Bowl games, at least those of the non-BCS variety, are sometimes tricky because the mental state of both teams, coupled with the six-week layoff, are tough to gauge.

Some teams view them as a cap to the regular season. Other teams view them as a start on next year.

Penn State used Saturday night’s Alamo Bowl as a little bit of both.

The Nittany Lions salvaged an at times disappointing year with a 24-17 victory over Texas A&M, pushing their record to a respectable 9-4 for the second straight season.

At the same time, in that they lose just three senior starters plus a fourth with the expected announcement that Justin King will forego a final year of eligibility, they got a jump start on 2008.

“Hopefully we can go on from here and have a great year next year,” offensive coordinator Galen Hall said.

Most importantly, Penn State got backup quarterback Daryll Clark some invaluable experience, and he responded by looking a lot like Michael Robinson.

Clark spelled Anthony Morelli in running situations, and his presence brought back a new and welcome dimension as Clark, often in punishing fashion, gained 50 yards on six carries.

“We tinkered around and tried to get some new formations, and it called for Daryll,” Hall said. “We thought that would be a change of pace.”

Clark was particularly effective early after the Lions fell behind 14-0, and his bruising 11-yard touchdown run tied the game before halftime.

“I’ve been anxious to try to get Clark in there,” Joe Paterno said. “I just didn’t want to do it at midseason and create speculation.”

If Clark was even or slightly ahead of Pat Devlin for next year’s starting berth, he will now be the frontrunner since he has the advantage of coming off a positive bowl game in pretty much hostile territory because the Alamodome was filled with Texas A&M fans.

“I think it will be very good competition this spring,” Hall said.

The game, though, was a microcosm of the Lions’ season in that nothing came easy.

The Lions fumbled twice early, and their second allowed A&M an easy score and put Penn State down two touchdowns.

“When you’re down 14-0, you don’t feel great,” Paterno said. “We had work ahead of us, but I thought we could get it done.”

At that point, the Lions’ will was tested, and they responded admirably. They stuck with a running game that A&M couldn’t stop, didn’t panic, made some defensive adjustments and took a 17-14 halftime lead.

“I’ve played coach Paterno twice that he’s come back from 14 points,” interim A&M coach Gary Darnell said. “You can never count him out.”

The Lions didn’t capitalize on the momentum, though, as the offense managed just one second-half touchdown, and the defense never delivered the knockout punch.

At the same time, injuries and off-the-field troubles deprived the defense of four members of the defense’s front seven.

“This is one the toughest years I’ve had because of all the off-the-field antics,” Paterno said.

In the end, though, the Lions were still stronger on both sides of the ball, and when faced with finishing 8-5, they delivered a win to make them forget the regular-season collapse at Michigan State.

“I told them all week I didn’t want to end the year with two losses in a row,” Paterno said. “I wanted them to get a win they could feel good about, and they did.”

It should help make the Happy Valley winter a little less chilly.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or

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