Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark is pressured by E.J. Carter of Syracuse in Saturday’s game in State College.PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER
The whistle rang out sharply in the middle of last Wednesday’s practice, and everyone immediately froze.
Penn State players looked around for a moment, confused.
Then came another high-pitched shriek.
“Get off the field!” Joe Paterno demanded. “You guys look terrible – get off the field!”
“He blew the whistle and everyone was just looking around, like, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’” said Daryll Clark, one of the Nittany Lions’ captains. “He was over (by the defense), and everybody jogged off.
“I’m still looking around, thinking, ‘What is going ... Oh. It’s time to go.’”
After a lackluster second half against Akron the Saturday before, the 82-year-old coach was dismayed with what he was seeing from his squad in preparation for Syracuse.
So he kicked every last player off the practice field.
Penn State’s other captain, linebacker Sean Lee, was closer to Paterno and heard it even more.
“He just said, ‘Get off. We’re wasting our time,’” Lee said. “He goes, ‘If you’re not gonna practice hard or practice detailed and keep focused, there’s no reason to be out here.’
“If he feels we’re just not practicing well and there’s just no emotion, we’re lackadaiscial, we’re just going through the motions – that’s a wasted practice. Get off the field.”
Both in their fifth year with the team, Clark and Lee said it was only about the fourth or fifth time in their Penn State careers that Paterno had actually thrown everyone out of practice.
So the two captains, along with fellow fifth-year senior Dennis Landolt, immediately went to work in the locker room afterward.
“Daryll and I and some of the older guys know as soon as we get kicked off the field, we’re not just gonna let it be,” Lee said. “We need to get across the point that we need to practice hard every single day. Practice perfectly. Have that sense of urgency nonstop if we really want to be a great team.”
The main issue was the upcoming opponent. Syracuse had offered little to no resistance last year under lame-duck head coach Greg Robinson, losing 55-13 to Penn State in the Carrier Dome and finishing 3-9.
A new coach, a new quarterback and a new mindset had nearly helped the Orange knock off favored Minnesota the week before. And Clark was going to make sure his teammates knew it.
“We let them know, ‘Look – this is a different Syracuse team,’” Clark said. “ ‘They’re gonna come down here with a totally different attitude. They’re gonna come down here thinking they can win. And if we play like we practiced today, they will.’
“We came out the next day, and everything was clicking.”
Penn State scored on its opening drive and nearly shut out Syracuse on Saturday, winning 28-7.
But there are still issues to be ironed out this week, as the Lions take on Temple before the Big Ten schedule begins the next week against Iowa.
Paterno wants to ensure that his captains can take control and keep the team focused.
“He’s sat me and Sean down a couple times before,” Clark said. “And he was just like, ‘Look, you guys have to learn to say what you have to say to them in certain situations. You guys have to be the leaders of all leaders, not just captains. You guys gotta do it all. They’re gonna be looking up to you, and you have to deliver.’”
Penn State remained at No. 5 in the latest coaches’ poll, sitting behind Florida, Texas, USC and Alabama.
The Lions moved up into a tie for fifth with Ole Miss in the new AP top 25, passing Oklahoma State, which lost on Saturday.