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Penn State Football: Mid-season Evaluations for Quarterback and Running Back

by on October 08, 2012 6:00 AM

This is the first in a five-part series reviewing each position at the midway point of Penn State’s season. The Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) have a bye this week and return to action Oct. 20 at Iowa.

Monday, we take a look at the quarterback and running back positions.

Quarterback

Ask yourself one question before considering anyone else for offensive MVP in the first half.

Can you imagine what this offense looks like without Matt McGloin? Forget, for a moment, the arbitrary numbers he’s putting up in Year 1-and-done under Bill O’Brien. Consider the pre-snap responsibility of putting Penn State in the right play depending on the defensive look. Consider the huddle presence on a fourth down call with an 11-point, fourth quarter deficit. Consider the simplicity of taking what the defense gives and reeling in old habits of trying to make a play out of nothing — even if he reverts now and then.

Tracking the maturation of McGloin through six games has been one key subplot in a season nobody’s seen here in . . . ever. Reward is on the horizon. He is 73 yards shy of setting a career high in passing yards in a season. His 12 touchdowns are two shy of matching his career high. He has a chance to leave this school as the No. 2 all-time leading passer behind Zack Mills. He has a chance to surpass Daryll Clark’s three-year-old record for passing yards in a season (3,003) while playing one less game for reasons his arm has no control.

Of course, McGloin’s legacy was pre-written before the season even started. It has nothing to do with his first-half performance. He is the former walk-on who has risen to be one of the leaders of a senior class who endured a year unlike any other in the history of college football.

Six more games for No. 11, some odd-number of snaps left in a career that started with little-to-no expectations for many, many people. To those who bristled at the Irish temper, ask yourself one question before bidding adieu to No. 11.

Can you imagine what the past, present and future of this football program looks like without Matt McGloin?

Running back

This position has been under construction for much of the season, and we’ve reached a critical juncture for its future.

Is it time to permanently lean on Zach Zwinak, the big, battering downhill runner and use Bill Belton in a complementary role? Zwinak has certainly earned the chance, rising from fifth on the depth chart to become the featured back the previous two weeks, both 100-yard performances.

Belton’s value to this club has not diminished, but it took a hit once he sprained his ankle in the season opener. He was not effective Saturday against Northwestern, and he is no longer a cut above everyone else.

Zwinak’s rise coincides with it all. He can run, and runs hard. He can catch, and he can block. Maybe most important is his durability. Four runners in front of him all sustained injury at some point this season. Zwinak is sore at times, a necessary compromise for cracking pads at scrimmage and beyond.

The others? Derek day and Curtis Dukes will probably be making most of their contributions on special teams from here on out. Michael Zordich will continue to be quite active in all phases of the offense.

This does not mean we have seen the end of Belton. But as Bill O’Brien said Saturday there is only one football, and he has chosen to put that football in the hands of the red head from Maryland.

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Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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