UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State can have all the offensive weapons in the world, but it won't matter if Joe Paterno insists on being conservative.
Paterno needs to do several things for the intriguing new Spread HD offense to be most effective:
* He needs to let his playmakers make plays.
* He needs to give Galen Hall and Jay Paterno freedom to call plays that actually surprise defenses.
* He needs to allow his offense to take some chances on the road rather than constantly trying to win defensive battles.
If Paterno refuses to take full advantage of his offensive weapons, Penn State will have another mediocre season. (And yes, 9-4 should be considered mediocre at PSU.)
The opinion here - and I seem to be in the minority on this - is that the Nittany Lions' defense will not be anywhere near as good as in recent years.
The line looks outstanding, but losing linebackers Dan Connor and Sean Lee and cornerback Justin King could be devastating. Even with those guys, the defense couldn't get off the field in key situations last year, and things might be much worse this season.
Penn State may have to score a lot of points to win several games, and the offense has the potential to do just that. There is an abundance of skill players, and for a change the offensive line figures to be terrific.
Add to the mix a dynamic quarterback like Daryll Clark - he should and likely will be the starter - and there's a lot to be excited about on offense.
And it's a giant if ...
But if Paterno turns things loose.
''I hope so,'' receiver Derrick Williams said. ''I really hope so. I believe that he [will]. I feel that we have a veteran team now, and I think that he's ready to let it loose.''
It's a veteran team, but Paterno will not be working with a veteran quarterback. That's the biggest sticking point here.
Everyone wants to make comparisons between Clark and Michael Robinson in 2005. The major difference is Robinson was a senior whom Paterno had gushed about for years and had earned the coach's trust.
Yes, Robinson was a first-year quarterback in 2005, but there already was a strong foundation in place between him and Paterno.
It's doubtful such a foundation exists with Clark. Asking Paterno to put faith in a new quarterback running a new system is the epitome of asking an old dog to learn a new trick.
''Coach Paterno has been around a while, he doesn't just give out his trust. You have to earn it,'' receiver Deon Butler said.
Paterno started Anthony Morelli for two years, yet it never appeared there was a lot of trust in the mistake-prone quarterback. Morelli seldom was allowed to throw over the middle and was limited to safer sideline routes for much of his career.
The key for Clark or Pat Devlin, Butler noted, will be how they play in early season games. If Paterno still has concerns, look for him to put the clamps on the quarterbacks, thereby weakening the potential of the Spread HD.
Whoever wins the quarterback job, Jay Paterno said, ''We've got to trust him. We've got no choice. If you don't trust him, you should go get another one because it doesn't matter who your quarterback is, you're putting the game in his hands.''
That worked out pretty well with Robinson calling the shots in a similar type of offense three years ago.
Now it's up to Clark or Devlin to prove they can handle the challenge, and it's up to Paterno to give them the chance.
Cory Giger is at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.