(Unlikely) Brothers in Arms

A little Juice helped Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark recover from the Nittany Lions' difficult loss to Iowa.

The text came shortly after previously unbeaten Penn State came from ahead to lose to Iowa, 21-10, at Beaver Stadium Saturday night. Having thrown three interceptions in the game, Nittany Lion quarterback Daryll Clark had to be one of the most disappointed college football players in the nation.

But the text helped put things into perspective. It was from Illinois QB Juice Williams, who struggled even more in the Illini's 30-0 loss at Ohio State earlier in the day, a defeat that dropped his team's record to 1-2 on the season.

“Call me when everything calms down, because I'm feeling how you're feeling right now,” the text said.

And after midnight, Clark did call Williams, with whom he had struck up a friendship while both were working at the Elite 11 quarterbacks camp in California over the summer.

“We talked about what happened, and how tough it is and how important it is that the leaders of the football team have to bounce back and put it behind them,” Clark said.

That such a conversation happened between two friends is not out of the ordinary. That it occurred less than a week before their two teams were set to square off in Champaign in a game that will likely knock one out of Big Ten title contention is a bit, well, different.

Now 3-1 and ranked No. 15, Penn State hits the road this week to take on the unranked Illini. ABC and ESPN will carry the game, which kicks at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. A lot will hinge on the respective performances of Clark and Williams.

And yet Clark does not think there was anything unusual with the two hashing our their respective losses late last Saturday night.

“Off the field, we're friends, so I don't see it as being awkward,” Clark said.

After the Iowa loss, Clark sensed that a lot of fans were blaming him for the team's poor performance.

“It's very evident,” he said. “All you have to do is get on the Internet.”

But that is nothing compared to the scrutiny Williams has been under. Now a senior, many felt he'd make a run at Big Ten Player of the Year honors.

Yet through three games, he has yet to pass or run for a touchdown. The Illini were hammered by Missouri in the season-opener before beating Illinois State and then losing to Ohio State. Williams has three interceptions and does not rank among the league's top 10 in pass efficiency. There have been calls for him to be benched in favor of backup Eddie McGee.

Clark feels for his friend because of the criticism but respects the way he is dealing with it.

“He hit it on the head when I talked to him Saturday,” Clark said. “He said no matter what happens, everyone has to point the finger somewhere, and it's definitely going to start with the quarterback. So you take full responsibility and then you move on with it.”

And that is exactly what Clark is doing. He acknowledged that the entire team must improve on Saturday's sloppy showing against Iowa -- the Lions had four turnovers, a blocked punt for a score against them, a safety and a roughing the punter penalty -- if it hopes to beat Illinois and get the season back on track.

Yet he admits that, as a captain, his teammates were anxious to see how he responded when the Lions returned to the practice field.

“Obviously, [the loss] was a little disappointing, but I took Sunday off and came back in Monday ready to roll,” Clark said. “…Everyone was wondering how I would be on Monday. I wanted to make sure our heads were high, and I did that.”

Even if criticism of him among fans did not let up.

“I know there are a lot of fingers pointing at me, no doubt,” Clark said. “But it comes with the territory when you lose football games.”


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