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Penn State Football: For Paterno’s 400th, 12 Reasons to Start McGloin

by on October 31, 2010 8:10 PM

Dear Joe:

This is a big week for even you. Of course, you won’t admit it.

But it is.

For two reasons:

One, you are a single victory away from 400 career wins. You’ll get your chance when Northwestern (6-2 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten) comes to town for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff in Beaver Stadium against your Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-2).

The four-century mark is an achievement never reached by a major college coach, and has only been surpassed in all of college football by Division III’s John Gagliardi, who has 476 at St. John’s in Minnesota, and the late Eddie Robinson, who had 408 at Division I-AA Grambling.

Gagliardi, who is still at it, is in his 62nd season as a head coach and turns 84 on Monday, Nov. 1, in fact. You’re a youngster by comparison; you have 51 days on him.

When you get 400 wins – against your current 132 losses and three ties – it will be one of the crowning achievements of your career, 45 years of which have been spent as head coach at Penn State and 16 more as an assistant to Rip Engle.

IT'S ALSO ABOUT THE QUARTERBACK

There’s a twist, though, and you know it. Which brings us to the second reason it’s a big week:

You have another quarterback controversy brewing.

Who will start at quarterback against Northwestern?

Will it be Saturday’s star, redshirt sophomore Matt McGloin, who led your Lions to a 41-31 win over Michigan in his first career start? Or will it be freshman Rob Bolden, who started the season’s first seven games but sat out the Michigan game due a concussion suffered against Minnesota?

That was kind of funny on Saturday night, when Neil Rudel of the Altoona Mirror asked you about it.

“Ah, Neil,” you said, cutting the beat’s most veteran writer some slack, because we both know you would have given almost anyone else a hard time. “I haven’t the slightest idea. Just let me enjoy this one.”

Your son, Jay – God bless him – was much more certain about who will get the nod. Ah, the impetuousness of youth.

“It's Rob Bolden's job,” Jay told a mass of reporters Saturday night. “He got hurt, he's coming back. But the great thing is we got two guys that we know can really go into games and big-time environments and make plays. So that's a great situation to be in.”

I’m betting you told Son No. 2 that such pronouncements made 160 hours before kickoff should come from you, not him.

Of course, you’ve been in this situation before.

Hostetler and Blackledge. Cooper and Hufnagel. Shaffer and Knizner. Senneca and Mills. Anything involving the Saccas, etc., etc.

You know what to do. But in case you’d like some advice, here goes: Start Matt McGloin. Or, as you call him, Mac.

12 REASONS TO START MAC McGLOIN

Here are 12 reasons why I think he should open the game at quarterback on Saturday against Northwestern:

1. He has the hot hand.

In six-and-a-half quarters, he’s thrown three touchdown passes, with just one turnover, for 326 yards and led your Nittany Lion offense to 58 points. Wow! In the previous 13-1/2 quarters your offense scored just 52 points – and that included part of the Minnesota game, plus Temple, Iowa and Illinois.

(Now some folks will say that Bolden is hot, hitting nine of nine and 11 of 13 before going down against Minnesota. But by Saturday, that heat will be 14 days old. Mac is still on fire. Right now, he is Mr. Mo Mentum.)

2. He’s earned it.

You could not ask more from Mac. He came into the Minnesota game cold, without throwing a pass all season, and closed the door like Don Newcombe (Joe, thought you would like the Brooklyn Dodgers reference). And then he had a near-error-free game against the Wolverines in a big-time atmosphere.

Against Michigan, he was 10 of 17 for 250 yards passing -- with nary an interception -- and also ran for a score. His 250 yards were a season-high for Penn State.

Remember, although he was a walk-on, you gave him a scholarship. Why? Because he earned it.

3. He’s great in the red zone.

Against Michigan on Saturday, you were six of seven (86 percent) from the red zone –- and five of seven (71 percent) were for touchdowns. In the first seven games, you were 16 of 22 (73 percent) in the red zone and just eight of 22 (36 percent) were for touchdowns.

That’s right: In the first seven games, you had eight red zone touchdowns (and that includes games against Youngstown State, Kent State and Temple). Against Michigan alone, you had six red zone touchdowns.

4. He’s great on third down.

Against Michigan, Mac converted 10 of 16 third-down opportunities (62.5 percent). In the first seven games, your team was 35 of 95 (37 percent). Mostly, the kid is unflappable, even in the biggest situations.

5. He’s mobile.

Lots of roll-outs, pretty quick feet, more confidence (or least presence) than Bolden. And let’s not forget his 11-yard all-out sprint to the sidelines for a big first down on your team’s third play of the game.    

6. No one’s spot in the starting lineup is guaranteed.

That’s what you said in the off-week after the 33-13 loss to Illinois. Should still stand.

7. Rob’s a big boy; no more babying him.

We know you’ve been taking it easy on Bolden, given that he’s a first-semester freshman and all -- easy on the checkdowns, simpler play-calling (at least it looks so from here), no running in a backup at critical junctures so as not to hurt his confidence.

Time for Rob to grow up. Competition is good and nothing in life is guaranteed (your coaching tenure at Penn State notwithstanding, of course).

8. You’ve always said you play who gives you the best chance to win.

It’s hard to argue that after Saturday night, when he didn’t throw an interception, didn’t turn the ball over, was sacked only once – not his fault; you said that U-M guessed right on that one -- that your odds of winning are any less with Mac under center.

9. He has the confidence of his teammates.

“Matt’s kind of older, so he knew what to do out there tonight,” said Devon Smith. “Everyone is going to listen to him in the huddle.”

“We knew from the beginning if he had to make plays he could do it,” said Graham Zug, who caught three passes from McGloin on Saturday after grabbing just four from Bolden in the first seven games of 2010.

“He practices hard,” added Zug. “You know he came in as a walk-on just like me and that makes you work harder. You know that you can't ever step back. He has worked hard since the day he arrived.”

10. He’s a leader.

On the opening drive against Michigan, he guided your offense all the way down the field, going 72 yards in 14 plays. The 14 plays comprised the second-longest PSU drive of the season, and led to Penn State’s first touchdown on an opening drive in 2010.

After the game, Mac said the right things – and meant them: “Everybody played really well. The fans were into it and the sideline was really into it tonight and we played well because of it.”

11. He has charisma.

“He has moxie, no doubt it,” said Jay. “Sometimes, too much it.”

As both an English Lit major and a native of Brooklyn, certainly you know the definition of moxie, Joe: “Backbone, fortitude and determination.”

Sounds like you, Joe. Just another reason you gotta love Mac’s moxie.

12. He’s a post-game favorite.

This last one won’t sway you in Mac’s direction, but it’s true nevertheless:

He’s a fresh and honest and entertaining and insightful quote. In fact, it is a plus that he’s a post-game quote at all, since as a freshman Bolden has not been interviewed after any game this year.

                         •  •  •  •

That’s it, Joe. My case for a Mac attack on the cusp of No. 400.

Rest assured, though, I know exactly what you’ll do if someone shows you this letter:

Start Bolden.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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