Drenched and despondent, Daryll Clark cleaned himself up and went to face the cameras and recorders last Saturday.
He sat down and spent a good 20 minutes rehashing in painful detail all three of the interceptions he threw in the second half of his second consecutive loss to Iowa.
Not long after he was finished, he pulled out his phone and made a call.
To Juice Williams.
Clark and Williams – who will take the field as rivals today, starting at quarterback for No. 13 Penn State and Illinois, respectively – had met briefly in past years.
But the two struck up a bit of a friendship this past summer when both were invited to serve as counselors at the Elite 11 high school quarterback camp out in California.
Both Big Ten signal callers were entering their senior seasons and found they shared plenty of common ground.
So when Clark got back to his locker after another forgettable performance against the Hawkeyes, he already had a text message waiting for him.
“Call me when everything calms down,” Williams had written. “Because I’m feeling how you’re feeling right now.”
Earlier that day, playing in the middle of the same storm system that let loose on Beaver Stadium, Williams turned in arguably the worst game of his four-year starting career at Illinois.
He threw for just 77 yards and tossed two picks in an embarrassing 30-0 shellacking from Ohio State in Columbus.
While Clark’s showing wasn’t quite that unsightly – he topped his friend’s numbers on his first play from scrimmage with a 79-yard touchdown pass to Chaz Powell – he took a large portion of the blame for the Nittany Lions’ upset loss.
So when Clark was able to return the message, both men had plenty to say.
“We talked about what happened, and how tough it is,” Clark said. “And how important it is that the leaders of the football team have to bounce back and put it behind them.”
The Lions (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) scored 10 points on their first two drives against Iowa, following up their first-play touchdown strike with a drive that rivaled Homer’s Odyssey in length.
At 20 plays and 10-plus minutes, it was the longest since the school joined the Big Ten in 1993.
After that, however, the Lions had nothing to show for the night except four turnovers, a blocked punt and 21 consecutive points for Iowa.
The Fighting Illini (1-2, 0-1) didn’t even have that level of productivity to show for their efforts.
Naturally, the brunt of fans’ frustrations fell on the quarterbacks, a feeling Clark said he was very much aware of this week,
“(Juice) hit it on the head when we talked,” 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 the attention is magnified further when multiple turnovers are involved. Even Penn State coach Joe Paterno was still notably irked by the giveaways as of Thursday.
“There’s always a time when we gotta produce or shut up,” Paterno said on his weekly radio show. “But let’s not give the damn game away. And that’s where I’m so frustrated this week. Although Iowa’s a well-prepared, well-coached team, we didn’t play the kind of game you gotta play.”
Clark said Paterno and the coaching staff have talked to him this week about the importance of putting last week’s results behind him. He took the 2008 loss in Iowa City exceptionally hard and wasn’t fully back to himself until two weeks later for the regular-season finale.
But the Lions don’t expect Clark to completely fall apart today, and Illinois’ Ron Zook feels the same way about his quarterback.
“I think, once again, you get to play this position and you have to be the type of person where you can put it behind you and go,” the Illini coach said. “He’s not the only quarterback out there in this country that’s struggling a little bit right now. He understands that."
Only too well.
No. 13 Penn State (3-1, 0-1)
at Illinois (1-2, 0-1)
3:30 p.m. today
Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
Radio: WILK-AM (910, 980, 1300)