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The Most Important Room in Penn State Football’s Lasch Building

by on March 29, 2013 1:00 AM

By day and late nights, it’s called the offensive staff meeting room and is located on the second floor of Lasch Building -- the Penn State football headquarters at the east end of campus.

But around 2:45 p.m. on many spring days and nearly every autumn weekday afternoon, it becomes the Nittany Lions’ quarterback film room.

This is where plays are learned, offenses are installed, game plans are introduced, games are won and contests are lost. And quarterbacks earn the starting job.

The leather chairs are cushy. The atmosphere is not. Whiteboards line the walls, waiting for plays to be diagrammed, routes to be written and dreams to be dashed. A daily script of formations and plays for that afternoon’s practice is doled out and is to be devoured here. The handout is so the quarterbacks can hit the field running – and passing.

This spring, the group inside that room numbers a half-dozen -- four quarterbacks, QB coach Charlie Fisher and head coach (and offensive coordinator) Bill O’Brien, who’s in these meetings about 90 percent of the time. At least two quarterbacks will be added in the fall, one of them Christian Hackenberg, rated the nation’s No. 1 QB recruit by ESPN.

ROOM FOR CONCERN

The pressure in that room can be palpable, as the quarterbacks work to learn the offense, impress the coaches and hold off challenges from their teammates – and competitors – in the room. There are jokes and laughs, on occasion; O’Brien’s sense of humor is wry and dry, while Fisher is a pretty easy-going guy. Plus, on Thursdays during the season Fisher brings in treats baked by his wife. But being quarterback at Penn State is hardly a cupcake job.

“When you play quarterback at Penn State, that's very, very different than any other position on the team,” O’Brien said over the offseason.

“When you play quarterback at Penn State," he added, "you have to really learn how to balance the classroom with being the best-prepared quarterback you can be, working in the weight room, studying the playbook, studying the game plan, your opponent, then obviously going to class -- which is No. 1, and will always be No. 1 at Penn State. “

Yeesh. A guy could get tired just reading that last paragraph. Only there’s no time for that. Not with O’Brien. Penn State’s new quarterbacks – juco transfer Tyler Ferguson and non-scholarship early enrollees D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple, who have joined sophomore Steven Bench -- have already figured that out, no doubt, five practices into spring drills.

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“You’ll just have to catch up if you’re a new guy,” said Matt McGloin, who successfully Berlitzed the O’Brien offense last spring to win the starting quarterback job as a fifth-year senior. “With Coach O’Brien, there’s no slowing down. What he puts in is for that day. Then, the next day he puts in something new again. You better be a fast learner or you’re going to be left behind.”

After quickly mastering the offense last season, McGloin led Penn State to an 8-4 record, throwing for over 3,200 yards, with four 300-yard games and a superlative 24-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But with McG gone, in 2013 there’s little time to waste in the quarterback room. Everyone is new, save for Bench, who played just a few snaps as a freshman last fall. But, like the other three QBs, this is his first spring in State College as well.

“You know, our quarterback room, as we sit here today,” O’Brien said the day before spring practice started, “is completely different than our quarterback room was at this point last year. That’s pretty interesting. You’ve got a totally different group of guys there. They’re young, they’re hungry, they’re very bright guys. I really enjoy being around them.”

He better. At least in part, the Nittany Lions’ next starting quarterback will very likely earn the starting job for what he learned in that meeting room – and his teammates didn’t.

‘HALF THE BATTLE’

“Being successful in the meeting room is half the battle,” said McGloin, who is working out in State College these days, waiting for his shot with the NFL.

He knows whereof he speaks: “Early on last spring, when we were just starting out with the offense, we would come in and immediately it was, ‘Hey, Matt, get up to the board. Draw this play up. And tell me what you’re going to do in this situation.’ I had to be prepared for every formation we had in, every route we had, every protection.

“I mean, last spring in a meeting you were up there in front of your head coach, who you’ve known for a month-and-a-half. And your new quarterback coach. And the guys you were competing against. If you didn’t get a play right, he’s going to know that you’re not working hard, you’re not studying the playbook and that you really don’t want to be the starting quarterback here.”

McGloin wanted it. And he put in his work. He made flash cards, with the play diagrammed on one side and the hieroglyphic-like play-call on the side. He barked plays into his apartment mirror. He watched film at night with the offensive linemen. He devoured old New England Patriots game tapes like they were TNT classics.

There was no way he was going into that room unprepared. He’d seen it happen to other players. When asked to draw a deep route and include the blocking scheme, all they did was draw a blank.

“The studying really paid off. Guys noticed it in the huddle and on the field,” McGloin said. “I knew the other guys weren’t doing it like I was. They were struggling. They would get up to the board and a couple of times they would just stare at it. They would look back at the coaches and they wouldn’t know the play, they wouldn’t know what they were doing.”

The flailing and the failing had to do with the students, McGloin said. Not the teachers. “You’re so well-prepared in that meeting room because Coach O’Brien and Coach Fisher do such a good job of teaching you,” he said. “I took notes every chance I got, of everything they said and asked. I asked a ton of questions and it really paid off on the field.

“It was like I had the answers before I took the test. I knew what I was going to do before I snapped the ball. If they played one coverage, I was ready. If they played another way, I was ready, too. That was the way I was taught, that was the offense I ran. The meeting room is where it starts, that’s where you get prepared.”

SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS

It has been, at best some days, an uneasy learning curve with The New Guys in The Room.

During practice in Holuba Hall on Wednesday – away from the meeting room – O’Brien stopped a passing drill and gave a loud and vigorous mini-tutorial to the quarterbacks.

It was a power point, that’s for sure – just not the kind Bench or Ferguson have seen in any University Park classroom, football or otherwise. That’s to be expected, said McGloin, noting there’s always room for improvement, especially outside of the meeting room.

“At the end of the day, you still have to go out and play,” McGloin said. “You have to know the offense inside and out or Coach O’Brien isn’t going to put you in. And once you’re in, you have to be able to play, to get it done, to transfer what you learned in the room to the field. There’s no magic.”



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. 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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