UNIVERSITY PARK -- Daryll Clark had just fumbled for the second time Saturday, and center A.Q. Shipley met him on the sideline.
"I told him to let it go and not dwell on it," Shipley said following the Nittany Lions' 34-7 victory over Indiana at Beaver Stadium. "He has a tendency to be tough on himself."
Clark appreciated the vote of confidence. In fact, he's been needing -- and getting -- a few of them lately.
Senior guard Rich Ohrnberger pulled Clark aside during the week and offered words of encouragement. Joe Paterno said he intended to play backup quarterback Pat Devlin a full quarter Saturday but chose to leave Clark in the game following the latter's second fumble (and third turnover) early in the fourth quarter.
"He's had problems, but I think he needs to work his way through it," Paterno said. "That's one of the reasons I kept him in there."
Clearly, the quarterback who took the nation by storm by fueling the Nittany Lions' meteoric during the first half of the season is not himself. Or maybe he is.
That will be further defined over the next two games.
Clark's final numbers Saturday -- 20 of 36 for 240 yards and two touchdowns -- weren't bad. But they were offset by the two fumbles, including one inside the Indiana 5-yard line, and an interception thrown on first down into double coverage in the third quarter.
"Indiana gave us a lot of opportunities to put it away early, and we didn't do a very good job with that," Paterno said. "I think we were sloppy."
Part of that falls to Clark, and he knows it.
He said he was protecting the ball when he fumbled. Nonetheless, Indiana defenders poked it free, raising Clark's unacceptable fumble total to 10 on the season.
"We're going to talk a lot about the fumbles," Paterno said. "That's just carelessness."
"Can't happen, can't happen," Clark said. "I'm real upset, but at the end of the day, we got a win."
That's because Indiana is Indiana. Though the Hoosiers did almost nothing against the Lions' defense, which showed its character following last week's collapse at Iowa, Penn State's offense had its troubles.
Four of its first six trips inside the Indiana 25 produced less than a touchdown.
The last four games -- Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and now Indiana -- have seen the Lions struggle offensively, especially early, and the passing game's timing is off. The offensive line, which allowed two sacks against IU, also seems less dominant.
"We're getting a lot more blitzes and pressure," Clark said. "I think they're testing me."
Clark didn't pass Saturday's test with flying colors -- "he might not have had a great day, but it wasn't a bad day," JoePa defended -- and he'll have to improve his ball security and quick reads.
"Teams are catching up to how we were in the spread early on and putting seven in the box," Shipley said, adding he thinks the Lions may be getting away from the run.
"We got to get [Evan] Royster more carries," he said. "We get a little complacent throwing the ball."
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno felt better about the Lions' second half Saturday in which they converted six of nine third-down opportunities. Though he thinks Clark's confidence is intact, JayPa said, "we wanted to come out and have some success heading into next week [against Michigan State]."
The Lions will need that. For the first time since it joined the Big Ten, Penn State will have a chance to clinch the league championship at home, against a much-improved team with the same goal.
And unless JoePa & Co. plan to put all the pressure on their defense and special teams, they'll need their quarterback to play better than he has lately.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.