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Penn State Football: Steven Bench's Preparation Led to Rise Up Depth Chart, Steady Debut at Virginia

by on September 11, 2012 6:00 AM

The moment could have been too big for any freshman quarterback taking his first collegiate snaps.

Steven Bench, however, spent the entire spring and summer preparing in case he was called upon to orchestrate Penn State’s offense.

Bench, Penn State’s No. 2 quarterback who was thrust into action Saturday at Virginia after Matt McGloin left with a bruised elbow, did not particularly dazzle nor did he stagger. He was serviceable, just what any coach, including Bill O’Brien needs at that position, and proved he could move the chains.

But more than that, he proved he could play major Division I college football, something the unheralded recruit out of Cairo, Ga., the heart of SEC country, wanted to do since the moment he stepped foot on Penn State’s campus earlier this summer.

“He is living out his dream,” said his father, Steven Bench Sr., who sat in the stands of Scott Stadium on Saturday. “He’s a football junkie. What he cares about is playing big-time college football. He works toward it. It’s been his goal for as long as I can remember since he was a little boy.

“For it to happen, when I say it’s overwhelming, it’s that I see him achieving the goal he set for himself. He has a knack for kind of making those things happen.”

Bench received ample work in Monday’s practice, but his playing status for Saturday’s game against Navy largely rests on how McGloin’s elbow feels, which should be made known Tuesday and Wednesday following two of the tougher practice days in Penn State’s game week preparation.

It’s hard to imagine McGloin having to sit out, and he was not listed on the team’s official injury report Monday night. He twice left Saturday’s game after bruising his elbow but returned on the third play of the second half and remained in the rest of the way.

Still, Bench will be ready. He would draw some of Penn State’s formations and write out the proper verbiage while watching TV at his home in Georgia. He and his father combed through O’Brien’s quarterback manual and portions of the playbook, getting familiar with the terminology, formations and cadences, which may include play calls as long as 14 words. The amount of verbiage in the playcalling was similar to the system Bench ran his senior year at Cairo High School.

“He has a very high athletic IQ,” Bench Sr. said. “He’s a really good athlete. He gets it. He likes to know about not just what to do but why you’re doing it, not just what he’s supposed to be doing but what everybody’s supposed to be doing.”

Bench displayed comfort with the offense on the team’s final drive of the first half, when the freshman marched Penn State 45 yards downfield with just less than four minutes remaining. He scrambled 15 yards to the Virginia 35-yard line on third down and saw a pass go through the hands of receiver Allen Robinson in the end zone.

“He's never really ever run a two-minute drive before,” O’Brien said. “He's done a couple in practice, and overall I think he did a heck of a job.”

His teammates said he handled the huddle well. He spoke clearly, eloquently and most of all completely, just as he did as a 9 year old, when Bench introduced his aunt in front of a couple thousand people when she was running for governor in Georgia.

“He really doesn’t get nervous,” Bench Sr. said.

Day Returns to Practice

Senior running back Derek Day practiced Monday, a source said, two days after suffering a shoulder injury at Virginia.

“He’s doing OK. I think it’s just a bruised shoulder,” the source said.

Day left Saturday’s 17-16 loss at Virginia in the third quarter and had his left arm in a sling after the game.

Day is officially listed as possible on the team’s injury report, along with sophomore Bill Belton, who missed Saturday’s game with a sprained ankle. Defensive end Pete Massaro (shoulder) and freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman (knee) are also listed as possible.

Programming Note

Penn State’s Sept. 22 game against Temple will kick off at 3:35 p.m., the school announced Monday.

ABC will televise regionally, and ESPN2 will carry a national broadcast. The game will feature multiple events, including a reunion of the 1982 national championship team and the Blue Out, with donations benefiting the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

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