Penn State routed Eastern Illinois on Saturday, just as expected. And, just as expected, Newsome's appearance late in the third quarter supplied the only real drama of the second half.
Among the biggest catches in Penn State's most recent recruiting class, Newsome has become one of the team's biggest enigmas. He is Daryll Clark's backup and the player who would be called upon to lead the team in the event the senior quarterback were injured. But he's also a little-seen and never-heard player, the latter owing to the fact that he is subject to Joe Paterno's true freshman gag order.
It was left to others to do the talking for him after he completed 4 of 5 passes for 34 yards and added 49 yards on the ground against the Panthers. And they did.
“I thought he ran the offense well,” said quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno. “He runs awfully hard and made the right reads in terms of throwing, so I was encouraged.”
“I thought Newsome did all right,” added Joe Paterno. “He's got a long way to go yet. He's got to get a better feel for the pass game and some things, but we're going to keep working on him.”
Newsome's first drive went beautifully, but his success requires a bit of context. Almost everything the Nittany Lions attempted Saturday went beautifully. They amassed 553 yards, 52 points and 28 first downs, all season-highs, and were seemingly able to move the ball at will against their Ohio Valley Conference opponent.
Newsome definitely showed some vulnerability in his second drive, as he fumbled twice (Penn State recovered both times), suffered a delay-of-game penalty and came up a yard short on a fourth-and-5 rush. Said Jay Paterno, “We worked more on ball-carrying this week than we had all year and probably cursed ourselves. We'll go back and work on that some more.”
Newsome had hardly played in Penn State's first five games, attempting only six passes in four appearances and completing four for 32 yards. His skimpy numbers came as a surprise to those who expected Penn State to use the nonconference schedule to groom its primary backup for action just in case something were to happen to Clark.
But the circumstances weren't in Newsome's favor. Even some of the games that seemed tailor-made for breaking in a young quarterback didn't present the kind of opportunities that some foresaw. In the opener against Akron, the offense flat-lined in the second half, and Joe Paterno felt compelled to leave the first-teamers on the field to see if they could get something going. The Syracuse and Temple games raised concerns about the rushing attack, the Iowa game turned into a debacle in the second half, and last week's game at Illinois didn't turn lopsided until the fourth quarter.
At his news conference last Tuesday, Joe Paterno expressed disappointment that the team hadn't been able to get Newsome on the field more often. “I really would have liked to have played him in the [Illinois] game more,” he said. “But we just haven't felt comfortable. I didn't want to put him in there with too much pressure on him and have him not succeed, because that would set him back.”
Behind the scenes, players have seen signs of progress. “When he first got here in the spring, he almost seemed confused in the huddle. He wasn't confident like a quarterback should be,” receiver Brett Brackett said. “But Daryll has done a good job taking him under his wing and talking to him about being confident: 'You need to be a leader, you need to portray that to the offense.' Since then, he's done a real good job of being confident in the huddle.”
Newsome came out of a high school offense at Hargrave Military Academy that emphasized the run, and his skills in that area are obvious. The Nittany Lions ran a number of quarterback draws against Eastern Illinois, including the 9-yard touchdown run and the 9-yard rush that immediately preceded it. But Brackett said he has an impressive arm and has shown improvement in his passing in practice.
“Even if he didn't have the ability to run -- if he only had the ability to throw -- he'd still be good,” Brackett said. “He's got a couple of tools that are going to make him a real good quarterback.”
Jay Paterno agreed, emphasizing that Newsome has been on campus less than a year. “I think he's progressed well. If we had to play him a whole game, we would hopefully be able to do some things offensively and have some success,” he said. “But hopefully it won't get to that point.”