Potentially, Bench Never Shined for Penn State Football
In retrospect, you could see it coming. If you read between the Lions.
Through the fall, into the winter, during spring practice and in Saturday’s Blue-White Game.
There wasn’t a groundswell of support for Steven Bench. Or his future at Penn State. At least not from someone not named Steven Bench – father and son.
No one raved about Bench’s upside, his possibilities. His potential. And definitely not the three guys who knew him best at Penn State: head coach and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, quarterback coach Charlie Fisher and quarterback emeritus Matt McGloin.
A good kid, a coach’s kid, a kid who is working at it. But not a kid with a future. Their confidence in him wasn’t great. This spring The New Guy in Town from California With the Skinny Calves – Tyler Ferguson – got the same amount of reps as Bench, even though Ferguson had been on campus for all of 71 days by the official start of practice.
To repeat: The same number of reps as Bench, who had been at Penn State for 29 summer practices, three months of daily fall drills, 12 games and over nine months. Even with Bench’s head start, the passing lines for the pair in the Blue-White Game differed by only nine yards; one threw for two TDs but was sacked thrice, the other threw for a TD but was sacked twice.
Bench had his shot. Apparently, the Blue-White Game was his last shot. So he was the one who got sacked.
Which means, and is true from all accounts, Ferguson had caught Bench. Maybe hadn’t passed him. But they were at least equal. We know this much: O’Brien is not an “at least” kinda guy. The odds of Ferguson sling-shotting past Bench were potentially higher than vice versa. Potentially. Upside is the watchword, and after watching Bench for three times as long as Ferguson, O’Brien and Co. had to make a decision.
When fall practice starts in late July, there will only be enough room, time, energy, player tolerance and game preparedness for two quarterbacks to take regular snaps (that’s at most; McGloin had 99% of the first-team snaps last fall). And on Saturday, O’Brien guaranteed that incoming freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg – whom some consider the top rookie QB in the country – was going to be one of the two.
“…When training camp starts we have to get Christian some reps and let him get in there and compete and see how that goes,” O’Brien said. “We are a long way off from that, but it is a decision that has to be made at some point in time.”
Time flies if you are Bill O’Brien. In his one-on-one meeting with Bench in the coach’s second-floor Lasch Building office on Tuesday, O’Brien told the sophomore from Georgia that – guess what? – the decision had been made. “My son was told he will not be getting any more first-team reps,” Bench’s father, also named Steven, told Bob Flounders of PennLive.com. The younger subsequently announced – on Twitter -- that he was leaving PSU. Leaving is such Tweet sorrow.
Truth be told, neither Ferguson nor Bench had inspired great confidence in the spring. Unable to get the ball off in a 7-on-7 drill with no pass rush will do that to you. Or two.
But confidence was not something that Bench lacked, which the legions who follow him and his aphorisms and his 23,314 career Tweets will attest. By comparison, for all his bravado, McGloin has Tweeted a total of 632 times -- lifetime. Hackenberg, ESPN’s No. 1 high school quarterback, Penn State’s No. 1 2013 recruit and no worse than No. 2 on the Nittany Lions’ depth chart, has 2,549 career Tweets.
It was a numbers game and Bench was odd man out, to wit:
Tyler Ferguson -- 2012 statistics, The College of the Sequoias: 199 of 358 (55.6%), 2,614 yards, 22 touchdowns, 12 interceptions.
Christian Hackenberg -- 2012 statistics, Fork Union Academy: 156 of 291 (53.6%), 2,144 yards, 24 touchdowns, nine interceptions.
Steven Bench -- 2012 statistics, Penn State: 2 of 8 (25%), 12 yards, 3 for 18 yards rushing. Even Bench’s high school stats his senior year paled in comparison: over 1,200 yards passing, with 11 touchdowns passing and nine rushing.
Of the 931 snaps that Penn State's offense took in 2012, Bench was in for 14 of them -- most of them under duress against Virginia, when McGloin was out for a bit with an injured elbow. As it was, both McGloin and O'Brien couldn't get McG back in fast enough.
Bench was a last-minute stop-gap acquisition last year, when he steamed some people at Rice by reneging on his commitment there. Similarly, Ferguson is a replacement for juco superstar Jake Waters, who spurned Penn State for Kansas State this past winter. Taken off the waiver wires. That’s the corollary to the cold, harsh reality of being Benched in college football.
“We’re not in the compassion business as coaches,’” Fisher told TNonline.com in March. “We’re in the results business.”
Hackenberg has been The Chosen One since O’Brien came on the Penn State scene, and he has been O’Brien’s No. 1 pet project – his personal recruit. For good reason, says ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer: “Christian is a kid you build your program around. You’re better the moment he steps on campus.”
O’Brien has always seen the potential in Hackenberg. Now, O'Brien told Bench and us as well, he can also recognize it in Ferguson.
Just not in Bench.