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Penn State Football: Making the Case for Matt McGloin

by on April 15, 2012 9:30 PM

Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien won’t pick his starting quarterback based on Saturday’s Blue-White Game.

But as many as 75,000 Penn State fans in attendance just might.

Save for a few Internet videos from bits of open practices, the scrimmage in Beaver Stadium will be everyone’s first glance at O’Brien’s new New England-style offense. And the lynchpin of that offense is the quarterback.

So far, says O’Brien, none of the top three candidates for the starting job is firmly implanted as the leader. Not Matt McGloin, not Rob Bolden, not Paul Jones.

Entering the summer, counting his first Blue-White Game – which he intends on treating like a full-fledged real contest – O’Brien will have had 15 spring practices to pick his starter. He said he hopes he can reduce the candidates to two.

"I just know that it's hard to get three guys the reps that you need to get in … for one guy to be the starter,'' O'Brien said last week on a Big Ten conference call.

"At the end of spring ball, I'm sure we'll have a better idea of which one or two guys will be the starter. If not, then we head into training camp and we continue with three guys getting reps.''

O’Brien’s a pro guy. It’s difficult to imagine he’ll spend the summer game-planning and practice-planning with three separate QBs. Figure on two, with the odds of the starting job eventually going to McGloin. Again.

A solid performance in the Blue-White Game, like the one Paul Jones put in 2010 – 5 of 8 passing, for 67 yards with two 18-yard touchdown passes – may impress O’Brien, but he’s looking for a lot more. Consistently.

“I want to see (the quarterbacks’) decision-making get better,” O’Brien said. “I want to see their accuracy get better. I want to, obviously, see them grasp the offense better than they are right now.

“They're working extremely hard at it. But I want to see them improve. Then it will be easier to make a decision.”

However, if the Blue-White Game means anything, McGloin’s got that covered. Over the past two years in that game, he is a combined 15-for-33 for 219 yards, with a TD and an interception. Bolden is 0-for-5 with a pick, Jones only threw once last year.

Ultimately, O’Brien’s decision will most likely be McGloin, a former walk-on. He’s not a lock, but he is the clubhouse leader. Here’s why:

1. He’s No. 1.

In parts of three practices I’ve watched this spring, during quarterback drills McGloin always went first. On Friday, for instance, QB coach Charlie Fisher described and demonstrated a play or drop-back. Then the quarterbacks would repeat it. McGloin always went first.

And when the offense came together to run plays with the full-player contingent, McGloin ran the first-team offense – the unit that included tailback Silas Redd, wide receiver Justin Brown and the bulk of what looks to be the first-string O-line.

Of course, that’s the danger of watching only part of practice. You don’t get to see at what point Jones and/or Bolden ran with the first group. Still, McG was McOne.

Hammering home that point was the report by Mark Brennan of FightOnState that in the squad’s live scrimmage on Saturday, complete with referees, McGloin ran the first-team offense. And did a pretty good job of it, Brennan wrote.

2. Drilling it.

Again, in throwing drills involving only the quarterback, McGloin has looked the sharpest, if only by a little bit. But he certainly seems the most intense and determined, and is throwing what appears a harder ball than usual.

Last week, while throwing into a harsh wind, none of the quarterbacks looked all that sharp. But again, McGloin’s intensity level was high.

3. Confident …

No one has ever doubted McGloin’s confidence level, that’s for sure. And that could be an asset under the complicated system being installed by O’Brien. Any hesitation, or uncertainty, by the quarterback and the whole thing comes down like a house of cards.

McGloin has confidence in spades. Bolden, not so much. As a starter from last year put it, “Matt needs consistency, Rob needs confidence and PJ needs experience.”

4. … But not overconfident.

McGloin, sources say, has dialed back his bravado a bit. That may be in part due to his maturity or to the fact that O’Brien has a strong personality himself. Or both.

It his clearly O’Brien’s show, often working directly with the quarterbacks in practice, and McGloin understands the new teaching dynamics. A good student who will get his degree in broadcast journalism on time next month, McGloin has taken those classroom habits to the practice field.

McGloin, the elder statesman of the quarterbacks, is more studied, less fiery in his approach – which is especially good when the new coach be emotive as well.

5. He’s battle-tested.

McGloin wins battles for the starting job. That’s what he does. Now O’Brien probably doesn’t care about that, but it goes to the heart of who McGloin is. And his mindset about competing in every practice, every drill.

If he ultimately beat out Bolden for the starting job three times, you’d have to think that he can do it one final time. To wit:

2010 — Bolden was handed the No. 1 job to open the season, then started seven of the first eight games. But McGloin shined in that one start (Michigan), saved the day against Northwestern (Joe Paterno’s No. 400) and he started the last four games of the season.

2011 – Bolden was once again handed the starting job, and even though McGloin typically played better (save for the Alabama game), Bolden started the first seven games. But McGloin kept on outperforming Bolden in relief, forcing Paterno to finally give McGloin the No. 1 job.

2011 – After Paterno was fired, it took interim head coach Tom Bradley all of three seconds to make a decision on his starting quarterback: Matt McGloin.

6. Keeping the seat warm.

This season is McGloin’s last. Steven Bench, the quarterback from Georgia, enrolls this fall. And highly touted Christian Hackenberg arrives next year. O’Brien really only needs a quarterback for one season: 2012.

McGloin may be that guy. He’s almost guaranteed to only get better. This may be a small point, but could reap big dividends in the fall. With McGloin’s undergrad degree out of the way, he’ll have a lighter post-grad course load in the fall.

That means he’ll have oodles of time to concentrate on football, watch video, get treatments and extra rest, soak up quarterbackese from O’Brien and Fisher. Penn State’s 2012 schedule is back-loaded, with Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin in the final five games. The Lions could conceivably start 4-2, even 5-1.

O’Brien, who worked daily with Tom Brady for a half-decade, has to like the idea of a protégé unencumbered by 15 credits as the Nittany Lions hit the homestretch with a possible division crown in the offing.

7. One stat.

O’Brien says he hasn’t looked backward as far as reviewing any film of the Penn State offense. But he’s a smart guy from Brown, so you have to figure he’s at least looked at some figures. And this one statistic, more than any other, defines McGloin:

Touchdown drives, led: McGloin, 44 (24 in 2010, 20 in 2011)

Touchdown drives led, Bolden: 16 (11 in 2010, 5 in 2011)

Touchdown drives led, Jones: 0

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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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