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Published: Saturday, 10/24/2009

PSU a challenge for Michigan

Before starring at Penn State, Darryl Clark was recruited by Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia.
Before starring at Penn State, Darryl Clark was recruited by Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia.

ANN ARBOR — Rich Rodriguez wasn't able to lure Daryll Clark to West Virginia six years ago, and Rodriguez' life at this moment is a little more stressful because of it.

Clark, Penn State's senior quarterback, will march the No. 13 Nittany Lions into the Big House today for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff against a Michigan team that can claim bowl eligibility with another win.

A star at Ursuline High School in Youngstown, Clark was thought to be a good fit for West Virginia's spread offense, and according to recruiting Web sites, was offered a scholarship by the Mountaineers. Instead of making his way to Morgantown, Clark attended Kiski Prep School for a year before enrolling at Penn State.

Now he's one of the Big Ten's most lethal offensive threats, ranking second in both pass efficiency and touchdown passes.

“I think he's one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” Rodriguez said. “He can throw, he can run, and he's a great leader.”

PSU's only blemish on the year is a 21-10 loss at home to Iowa. The Nittany Lions (6-1, 2-1) have taken advantage of a soft schedule, with wins over Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Illinois, Eastern Illinois, and Minnesota.

Rodriguez doesn't need to see PSU beat quality opponents to know it “has no weaknesses” among its offense, defense, and special teams.

“[It's] a typical Joe Paterno coached team that plays very soundly,” Rodriguez said.

PSU's defense has been positively lethal, leading the conference in the four major statistical categories — yards allowed, points allowed, rushing, and passing. Its 8.71 points allowed per game trails only Florida (8.67) for the country's top honors. Rodriguez said Jared Odrick (five sacks) is one of the best defensive tackles he's seen in years.

“And we said that last year too,” Rodriguez said. “He dominated us last year, and he's even better this year.”

The Nittany Lions, ranked No. 3 at the time, stomped the visiting Wolverines 46-17 in 2008. The margin of victory may be misleading as UM led 17-14 at halftime before the home team erupted with 32 points over the final two quarters for its first win in 10 tries against the Wolverines.

Despite UM's string of dominance in the series, PSU running back Evan Royster, who ranks third in the Big Ten with 91.6 yards per game, isn't intimidated.

“I think we feel like we're the better team and we can go out there and still beat them,” Royster told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week.

Joe Paterno is just 4-10 against UM — which, considering his longevity at the school, is also PSU's record against UM — and has lost five straight at the Big House after winning his first two.

Paterno says he was offered the UM head coaching position in 1968 but the Wolverines instead landed Bo Schembechler.

Would Paterno, 82, still be coaching had he gone to Ann Arbor?

“If I could have gotten rid of some of the guys out there, I might have — in the press I might — I thought they were pretty tough on Rich last year,” he said.

Contact Ryan Autullo at:rautullo@theblade.comor 419-724-6160.

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