Penn State has had trouble finding a reliable quarterback since Big Ten offensive player of the year Michael Robinson finished his senior season in 2005.
This year, the Nittany Lions are hoping they have two.
After impressive debuts from a pair of passers in their season-opening blowout win, the 19th-ranked Nittany Lions should get a better test Saturday with their first-ever visit from Oregon State.
Penn State gave the reins of its offense to highly touted Anthony Morelli after Robinson’s departure, but the quarterback spent most of his junior season listening to calls for him to be replaced by backup Daryll Clark.
His numbers improved in his senior season, but the whispers for Clark and, eventually, redshirt freshman Pat Devlin, remained. Clark got a chance to show off his skills in the Nittany Lions’ Alamo Bowl victory to close 2007 despite not throwing a pass, running for 50 yards and a crucial touchdown.
He then had to fend off Devlin for the starting job this fall, and did so - barely. But coach Joe Paterno promised both quarterbacks would see time, and he made good on his word in the team’s season opener last Saturday against Coastal Carolina.
Clark completed 11 of 14 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown, and Devlin was 5-for-8 for 83 yards - including a 40-yard strike to receiver Jordan Norwood on his first pass early in the second quarter.
“Both quarterbacks played well,” Paterno said. “I think Daryll Clark has earned the job, but I think Devlin is very close. I think it’s a good situation for us.”
Clark, a senior, is on pace academically to gain another year of eligibility, which had prompted some rumors that Devlin may seek to transfer, something Devlin has denied.
“I think when you come into a program such as this one, you’ve got to figure there’s going to be some competition,” Paterno said. “They’ll be battling with each other for another couple of years, and I think that’s good.”
Penn State racked up 594 yards against the Chanticleers - its highest total since 1995 - but figures to have a tougher test against Oregon State.
The Beavers held Stanford to 301 yards in their season opener last Saturday, outgaining the Cardinal by nearly 200 yards, but two interceptions and a fumble cost them in a 36-28 loss.
One of those turnovers came as Oregon State was driving late in the fourth to potentially tie the score. As sophomore receiver Darrell Catchings was reaching for the pylon in the final seconds, he fumbled the ball out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
“I was trying to make a play for the team but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way,” said Catchings, who had four receptions for 54 yards. “It didn’t happen. I have to learn from this and try to make better decisions.”
Though quarterback Lyle Moevao threw a pair of interceptions against the Cardinal, he went 34-for-54 with three touchdowns. Shane Morales and Sammie Stroughter accounted for 308 of those yards and all three scores.
The Beavers will likely try to find more success in the air at Penn State. The Nittany Lions allowed only 2.6 yards per carry last season - fifth-best in the nation - and limited Coastal Carolina to 52 yards on 32 carries (1.6).
The team that had the country’s stingiest rush defense in 2007, however, was Oregon State. The Beavers allowed 2.1 yards per carry, but returned only three starters this season. Stanford took advantage, gaining 210 yards on 48 carries (4.4).
That run defense will face a stiff challenge from Penn State, which ran for 334 yards in its opener. Four Nittany Lions - Stephfon Green, Brent Carter, Evan Royster and Chaz Powell - had at least 60 yards on the ground.
Penn State is 22-11 all-time against Pac-10 opponents. Oregon State is the only team from the conference that the Nittany Lions haven’t faced.