Will History Repeat Itself?

Quarless is hoping the tight end again plays a prominent role on a Penn State visit to Northwestern. But he can do without the late-game drama Isaac Smolko was involved with in 2005.

Joe Paterno might not remember the play at Northwestern that saved Penn State's 2005 season (and perhaps, by extension, his coaching future), but Andrew Quarless sure does.

Michael Robinson threw a 20-yard pass to tight end Isaac Smolko on fourth-and-15, and the completion kept alive what would turn out to be the winning drive in Penn State's Big Ten opener, a game of no small significance given that the Lions had gone 3-13 in conference play the two previous seasons.

At his news conference earlier this week, Paterno seemed to have only a vague recollection of Smolko's catch. “I don't go to bed thinking about what we did 20 years ago,” he said. “I go to bed thinking [about] what we've got to do this Saturday.”

Fair enough. But the play is still fresh in some other minds. Quarless was a high school senior who was being recruited by Penn State at the time, and the fourth-down conversion made a big impression as he watched it unfold on TV. “After seeing that,” he said, “I knew I could come to this place and make an impact.”

The Nittany Lions are hoping they won't have to stage a valiant comeback in their first visit to Evanston since that 2005 game. But if they do, they have, in Quarless, an effective tight end to play Smolko's role.

Quarless is having the kind of season that a lot of people envisioned for him when he burst onto the scene as a true freshman. Blessed with the speed to outrun linebackers and the hands to catch just about anything thrown his way, he is third on the team with 23 catches for 315 yards. Both are career-highs for the senior.

Accustomed to facing three-deep coverage schemes with a safety patrolling the middle of the field, Quarless made one of the biggest plays of his career last week at Michigan he when found himself in single coverage against linebacker Obi Ezeh. He raced past Ezeh, and when Daryll Clark floated a perfect pass over the middle, there was no one between Quarless and the goal line. He caught the ball in stride for a 60-yard touchdown.

Quarless went into his senior season hoping to catch 30 to 40 passes, and he is on pace to do so. He also went into it looking to score some touchdowns. The 60-yarder against Michigan was his first touchdown in 16 games, and he admitted he's been frustrated at times that he hasn't scored more frequently at Penn State.

“I want to get in the end zone every play,” he said. “But I'm happy I got a chance to show my speed and my ability [against Michigan]. I say, look forward to more of those [plays] these next couple of games.”


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