UNIVERSITY PARK - Joe Paterno was back on the sideline Saturday afternoon. Or was he?
It seemed more like NFL passing guru Don "Air" Coryell or BYU legend LaVell Edwards was in charge as Penn State threw an eye-popping 44 times against a vastly overmatched Akron team.
It was 31-0, and the Nittany Lions were still throwing the ball.
Mirror file photo
Joe Paterno really let the offense air it out in Saturday's win over Akron.
It was late in the fourth quarter, with the Lions in no danger up 31-7, and they were still throwing the ball.
Backup Kevin Newsome came on in the closing minutes, and even he was throwing the ball - sort of understandable since he needs all the experience he can get.
Could this be a sign of things to come? Will JoePa be turning his offense loose and airing it out this season rather than constantly sending the tailback into the gut of the line?
But it was fun to watch Saturday, and with Daryll Clark looking so poised and confident, it may be a good strategy all season.
Clark had a huge afternoon and was rewarded with the co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honor Sunday night. The senior looked like he was in midseason form as he completed 29-of-40 passes for a career-high 353 yards and three touchdowns.
No one knew Penn State would be throwing so much, even the players.
"Didn't really expect that," receiver Graham Zug said. "But I like that. I'm not complaining"
Clark said he "loved" throwing so many times. The number of attempts, however, was not the most impressive thing. It was the accuracy.
Clark hit on 72.5 percent of his passes, and the 29 completions are tied for second most in school history behind Wally Richardson's 33 against Wisconsin in 1995. His 353 yards are No. 5 on PSU's single-game list (Zack Mills threw for 399 against Iowa in 2002).
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, who calls the passing plays, made a point of posting these interesting tidbits on his Twitter account Sunday: "In the past 3 games Daryll Clark has passed for 967 yards & 9 TDs-as a team we've thrown for 1067 yards and 10 TDs."
That's pretty amazing to think Penn State has averaged 356 yards passing going back to the final two games of last season - Michigan State and USC - and this year's opener. Clark threw for 341 yards against the Spartans and 273 against the Trojans.
The Lions will always try to be balanced under Paterno, but there clearly has been a shift in focus as the coaching staff has learned to trust Clark more. He has proven he can make any throw, from sideline routes to fade patterns with touch to over-the-middle bullets.
The troubling thing about Penn State's offensive attack Saturday was that the coaches felt they needed to throw so many times because they had little faith in the running game. The Lions gained 136 yards on 30 carries (4.5 per attempt), not bad except for the fact the offensive line didn't open up many running lanes.
"We had a little trouble with running, so we had to throw the ball a little bit," Clark said.
Coaches and offensive linemen said afterward that the Zips threw some things at them they weren't expecting. OK, but come on, that cannot be an excuse against a team like Akron.
The biggest benefit to throwing so much Saturday was getting Clark more comfortable with and confident in the new starting receivers. The wideouts looked terrific, except for one play in which Chaz Powell couldn't come up with a catchable ball, tipped it in the air and let Akron make an interception.
"Those guys did a great job of getting open, and we're really proud of them," Clark said. "We were able to move the chains with those boys making the plays."
Derek Moye, who caught six passes for 138 yards, looks like a potential star. The 6-foot-5 target appeared to be on the same page with Clark all day.
"They have worked together for a couple of years now," Jay Paterno said. "It's not really that new in terms of them working together. The way [Akron] played most of the coverage, we knew Moye would probably have a big day."
The coaches undoubtedly will try to get the running game up to speed the next two weeks against Syracuse and Temple, so the Lions may not be throwing as much. But if they need Clark to carry the offense with his arm, he appears capable of doing it.
SUBHD: Afterthoughts ...
n It's laughable that many people think Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor is better than Clark. It's not remotely close right now.
n Pryor and the Buckeyes nearly choked against Navy, but even in winning 31-27, they found a way to bring more criticism on the Big Ten.
n Speaking of criticism, the conference had a horrible weekend. Illinois got destroyed by Missouri (37-9), Iowa barely escaped I-AA Northern Iowa (17-16), Wisconsin struggled against Northern Illinois (28-20) and Minnesota needed overtime to beat Syracuse (23-20).
n The coaches blew it not getting Newsome into the game earlier. The "game was close" argument doesn't hold water because there's no way Akron was coming back on PSU's defense.
n The Lions opened up as 29-point favorites against Syracuse.
n The secondary did OK against Akron, getting a lot of help from all the pressure supplied by the front seven. "We had a couple blown moments today - we gave up a touchdown - but it's the first game, we can always build on this," cornerback Knowledge Timmons said. "We have to communicate better."
n The Zips' passing game was nowhere near as good as expected.
n Penn State, tied for No. 9, should move up at least two spots in the AP rankings after No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 7 Virginia Tech lost. The Lions also may jump over Ohio State, which was No. 6.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.