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Penn State Football: McGloin or Bolden? Even Stephen Hawking Couldn't Decide

by on September 20, 2011 1:55 AM

Who should Joe Paterno start at quarterback: Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin?

Or, to put it another way, who shouldn’t start, Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden?

My well-worn Ti-1795 light grey calculator just spent 200 minutes crunching the official game statistics from Penn State’s first three games – against Indiana State, Alabama and Temple – and it doesn’t know either.

(That's three-plus hours I'll never get back.)

It may have been a fool’s errand, trying to split a few McHairs or Robbing Bolden to pay Paterno.

Still, here’s the Cliff Notes version of my Mikematics for you folks over 40. And the Wikipedia version for everyone else:

If the numbers are right, our men are equally as good. And bad.


The two quarterbacks start drives at roughly the same spot on the field -- Bolden at the 35.5-yard line, McGloin at the 34.

For those of you scoring at home – especially in Orchard Lake, Mich., and Scranton, Pa. – that’s 18 drives for Bolden, the sophomore. And 15 drives for McGloin, the junior.

And they convert those drives into nearly-identical scoring opportunities. (For Penn State these days, that means touchdowns scored, field goals made and field goals missed. Lots of field goals missed.)

McGloin has led the Lions to four TDs and two missed FGs in 15 drives. That’s a 40 percent conversion rate.

Bolden has led the Lions to three TDs, a made field goal and three missed FGs in 18 drives. That’s a 39 percent conversion rate.

No wonder Joe can’t make up his mind.

When you just talk TD drives led, though, McGloin has a slugging percentage of .266, while Bolden is hitting just .167. Getting into the end zone is the idea, isn’t it?

The difference between their average drive is mere inches. A McGloin-led drive equals 27 yards. A Bolden-led drive is 26.5 yards. And you thought Tiger was driving poorly these days.

Bolden has run more plays (122) for more yards (478), than the 81 and 405 for McGloin. But with McG at the helm, the Nittany Lions average 5.0 yards per play to 3.9 for Bolden.

That’s one meter and one inch difference, if you’re counting. And who isn’t?

Advantage: McGloin.


Let’s talk about third down conversions. They’re a real test of a leader. Fourth downs even moreso.

Advantage: Bolden.

With RBold behind center, the Nittany Lions’ offense has converted 13 of 31 third- and fourth-down attempts – that’s 42 percent. His average third/fourth down conversion is from 7.6 yards out.

McGloin? So, so much worse – six of 15, for 40 percent. His average third/fourth down conversion is from 2.7 yards out.

That may mean that Bolden digs himself a bigger hole or that he’s better on third-and-long. Or not.

Who knows? Probably another reason why Joe can’t make up his mind.

(Advantage Bolden: On third downs against Alabama, when Bolden passed the Lions made 5 of 8; when the Lions ran, they were 3 of 5, for a sturdy 8 of 13 on third down against the Tide. McGloin was just 1 of 5 on third downs against ’Bama.)


First down, now that’s a different story: Against Alabama and Temple, Penn State stunk on first down no matter who was at the helm.

In those two games, on first down Penn State was equally inept at running and passing the ball. And that was with or without McGloin and/or Bolden.

Penn State ran 26 first down plays against Alabama – 10 runs and 16 passes.

Penn State ran 28 first down plays against Temple – 19 runs and nine passes.

On first down in those two games, Penn State ran for 93 yards and passed for 93 yards. Talk about a balanced lack of an attack.

Talk about tendencies. On first down, the Nittany Lions have a tendency not to do very well. And tend not to throw to a running back, either; according to the game stat sheets, only four of the 54 first-down plays were passes tendered in the direction of a back.

A run on first down vs. the Tide and the Owls averaged 3.2 yards. (And 2.5 yards if you subtract a 21-yarder by Silas Redd against Temple.)

Passing on first down has produced a line of 7 of 25 with two interceptions and no TDs, with an average pass attempt of 3.7 yards. (Of course, take away McG’s 40-yard toss to Derek Moye against Temple and you’re looking at 2.2 yards per pass attempt.)

Back to the Great Debate:

In 20 first downs (40 percent of them passes) against the Tide and the Owls, McGloin’s offense gained 90 yards. In 34 first downs (50 percent of them passes) in those same games, Bolden’s offense gained 96 yards.

So, McGloin averages 4.5 yards on first down and Bolden just 2.8 yards. Of course, take away the 40-yarder that was Moye bueno, and Mac is down to 2.6 yards.

That’s down, as in down and out. And down and dirty. And down in the mouth.


It’s a quarterback quandary that looks to continue into the Big Ten season.

No wonder Jay can’t make up his mind.

Ain’t no one picking a quarterback based on how he does against Eastern Michigan in Beaver Stadium on Saturday, since you have to figure Penn State will run the ball against EMU. Last week, in its 31-3 over EMU, Michigan ran for 376 yards and added 95 yards as a passing afterthought.

Redd and Brandon Beachum are so happy that they’re already over in Paternoville, camping out inside their Coleman tent right now.

An efficient way to compare Penn State’s two quarterbacks may be to look at their passing (in)efficiency:

McGloin has an efficiency rating of 99.69 – with a line of 20 of 37 for 201 yards (54.1 percent), with no TD passes or McPicks. (Advantage: McGloin, although he needs 4.72 points to be ranked No. 100 among BCS quarterbacks.)

Bolden has an efficiency rating of 77.47 – with a line of 26 of 58 for 273 yards (44.8 percent), with TD passes and two Boldenceptions.

McGloin has carried the ball once and lost eight yards. Apparently the West Scranton Scrambler is running on eggshells.

Bolden has run nine times, and averages 32.4 inches and .94 headaches per carry.


So let’s not carried away. The two Nittany Lion quarterbacks are running neck and neck -- and Rob is two inches taller, so if comes down to the wire, he has the edge.

But if Paterno The Elder gives bonus points for longevity, then we can Ensure who has the edge:

McGloin. He’s 810 days older than Bolden.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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