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Penn State Football: For Most PSU QBs, Playing Top 10 Is Rank

by on August 12, 2010 8:50 AM

This is how daunting Sept. 11, Oct. 2 and Nov. 13 are.

This is what Alabama, Iowa and Ohio State represent.

This is what’s in store for KevinMattNewsomeMcGloin.

He will join a small club of Penn State quarterbacks: Tom Sherman, John Andress, Todd Blackledge, Doug Strang, Mike McQueary and Anthony Morelli.

When it comes to the credentials for membership, Blackledge was the best. And Sherman and Morelli were the worst.

Those half-dozen quarterbacks were the only Nittany Lion signal-callers in Joe Paterno’s 44 years as head coach to play three teams – or more, in Blackledge’s case – ranked in the Top 10 in one season. (The rankings are based on the poll spot when the Lions played the opponents.)

That’s not unlike the situation facing Kevin McGloin in 2010, when Penn State’s schedule will include three opponents in the USA Today Coaches’ preseason poll No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 10 Iowa. Ouch. All on the road. Double ouch.

It gets worse. The Nittany Lions and Matt Newsome will be the first team to play three Bowl Championship Series-winning teams from the previous year on the road the following season. Triple ouch.

You’ve heard of the 1927 New York Yankees? Ruth, Gehrig, et al? Sure, they had the Murderers’ Row. But Penn State, with a head coach even older than that legendary baseball team, has a gargantuan task. It is a scheduling nightmare that the Nittany Lions have faced only twice since 1984.

1997 AND 2006: TWO CASE STUDIES

In 1997, Big Red McQueary – the current PSU receivers coach and Paterno’s sideline sounding board quarterbacked Penn State to a 9-3 record. Ranked second at the time, the Lions defeated No. 7 Ohio State, then still No. 2 fell 34-8 to No. 4 Michigan and 21-6 to No. 6 Florida in the Citrus Bowl. McQueary entered that season, his senior year, with no starting experience and only 52 passing attempts. Turned out OK, though.

Surely the Paternos – Joe and son Jay, the quarterbacks coach – would take the 1997 results right now, before McGloin Newsome takes his first snap. McQueary’s numbers: 9 wins, 2,211 passing yards, 146 of 255 passing, 17 TDs and only 9 picks.

And you’re right, you naysayers who point out McQueary was a heady senior who was around for three years before getting his shot at starting (call this the Pat Devlin If Only Syndrome). Still, the fact remains: McQueary was a first-time starter.

That was the same case in 2006 for  Morelli, another first-time starter with limited playing time entering the season. His stats as a backup: 18 of 33 (54 percent) passing, 200 yards, one touchdown, one interception.

In 2006, Morelli stumbled pretty badly in the Lions’ three games against Top 10 teams – losses at No. 4 Notre Dame, at No. 1 Ohio State and at home against No. 4 Michigan. Morelli’s linescore for those three games: 48 of 76 (63 percent), three interceptions (two for touchdowns), eight sacks, one touchdown pass and one concussion.

Once again, surely the Paternos – Joe and son Jay, the quarterbacks coach – would take the 2006 results right now, before Newsome McGloin takes his first snap. Morelli’s numbers: nine wins, 2,424 passing yards, 208 of 386 passing, 11 TDs and only eight picks.

It is now officially a trend: When it comes time for the changing of the guard among Penn State starting quarterbacks, they enter the fray with little playing experience. It’s happened with Morelli, it’s happened with Daryll Clark and it is now happening with the 2010 starter.

Clark entered the 2008 season, his first as a starter, with two-year career totals of 20 of 36 passing (55.6 percent) for 147 yards, with no TDs or interceptions. Newsome, by comparison, last year was 8 of 11 for 66 yards (72.7 percent), with no interceptions or touchdown passes, but with a pair of scoring runs.

It didn’t seem to hurt Clark any, as he led the Nittany Lions to an 11-2 record, a share of the Big Ten title and a rankings high-water mark of No. 3. His 2,592 passing yards and 19 touchdown passes belied his experience.

Seems like a lot of pressure on Jay, always starting totally fresh every couple years.

BLACKLEDGE THE BEST

At this point, you have to be wondering where Blackledge fits in all of this. Well, he was the starter for most of 1980 and all of 1981 and 1982 – all seasons when Penn State played at least three games against teams ranked in the Top 10.

Schedule-wise, these were the glory days for Penn State football. In the six seasons from 1978 to 1983, the Nittany Lions faced at minimum three Top 10 opponents five times.

In 1980, as a redshirt freshman Blackledge came off the bench to relieve starter Jeff Hostetler against No. 3 Nebraska in a 21-3 loss in the third week of the season. In his first start at Penn State, Blackledge came back the next week at No. 9 Missouri and led PSU to a 29-21 win. In Penn State’s third game against a Top 10 team that season, No. 4 Pitt at home, the Lions lost 14-9. The Lions finished 10-2. Give Blackledge a 1-1 Top 10 mark.

The next season, Blackledge and Penn State went 2-1 against Top 10 competition. They lost 31-16 at home against No. 6 Alabama, then beat No. 1 Pitt in a famous 48-14 comeback in Pittsburgh, then defeated No. 8 Southern Cal 26-10 in the Fiesta Bowl. Overall, PSU was 10-2.

The best was yet to come. In 1982, when Penn State played the nation’s toughest schedule, Blackledge led his team to a 3-1 record against Top 10 teams.

In 1982, Penn State beat No. 2 Nebraska at home, fell 42-21 at No. 4 Alabama, beat No. 5 Pitt 19-10 and as the second-ranked team defeated No. 1 Georgia in the 1983 Sugar Bowl. The Lions finished 11-1.

That gave Blackledge a 6-3 record as a starter against Top 10 teams (and 29-4 overall). Here’s how outstanding that mark is: In the nine seasons Penn State played at least three Top 10 teams, they have an aggregate record of 12-16; 6-13 minus Blackledge.

THE REST OF THE FIELD

Just so you know, here are the rest of the seasons in the Joe Paterno Era when Penn State faced three Top 10 teams:

1966 – quarterback Tom Sherman, 0-3; lost 42-8 at No. 1 Michigan State in the second game of the season (shades of 2010 Alabama?), lost 49-11 at No. 4 UCLA and lost 21-0 at No. 5 Georgia Tech. It was Sherman’s first season as a starter. Penn State finished 5-5 in Paterno’s first season as a head coach.

1975 – quarterback John Andress, 1-2; lost 17-9 at No. 3 Ohio State, lost 39-0 at home against No. 10 West Virginia and lost 13-6 to No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. It was Andress’ first and only season as a starter. Penn State finished 9-3.

1978 – quarterback Chuck Fusina, 2-1; won 19-0 at No. 6 Ohio State, ranked No. 2 and won 27-3 against Maryland, and ranked No. 1 but lost 14-7 against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. It was Fusina’s third year as a starter. Penn State finished 11-1.

1983 – quarterback Doug Strang, 2-1; lost 44-6 to No. 1 Nebraska in the season-opening Kickoff Classic in the Meadowlands; beat No. 3 Alabama 34-28 and defeated No. 5 West Virginia 41-23. (Those last two wins sure shed some different light on an 8-4-1 ’83 season I always thought was simply mediocre.)

SO, NOW WHAT?

What does all this tell us in relation to 2010?

Penn State has an unfortunate habit of facing top-heavy schedules with very green quarterbacks. Only three out of nine seasons did the Nittany Lions face a slate of three Top 10 teams with an experienced QB.

This year, then, is nothing new.

After all, Newsome (just him, not McGloin) has less experience than McQueary or Morelli, but not by much.

This is what is new:

Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, the talent surrounding Newsome doesn’t match that of 1997, when Penn State was the preseason No. 1 pick. Or even 2006, when the captains were Levi Brown and Paul Posluszny, the offense featured Tony Hunt (OK, Evan Royster is better) and Derrick Williams, and the defense included Justin King and Jay Alfred, two guys picked up in the fourth and third rounds of the NFL Draft, respectively.

So, Penn State fans, forget Blackledge.

Hope for a Fusina or a Strang.

And pray that it’s not a Sherman.



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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