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Riding Shotgun: McGloin, O'Brien Set to Drive Penn State's New-Look Offense

by on August 30, 2012 12:43 AM

Just in case you were wondering, Penn State’s summer playbook weighs five pounds. Garry Gilliam weighed it.

The context . . .

“I didn’t even bother to weigh it (last year),” said the tight end. “It wasn’t as much as it was now.”

First-year coach Bill O’Brien will finally lift up the hood and show off his New England-style, multiple-personnel attack Saturday against Ohio at Beaver Stadium (noon, ESPN). Here’s the big picture: Quarterback Matt McGloin is maestro, responsible for conducting each play on any given down and distance, against any defensive look, in any game situation.

"The most exciting part of this offense is the quarterback has a lot of the control out there,'' McGloin said.

"You have to get us from a bad play to a good play. That's pretty much the main objective on offense. You don't want to waste plays, we don't want to run bad football plays, and Coach O'Brien puts a lot of faith, a lot of trust in the quarterbacks to get us into the correct plays.''

Of course, nobody in Beaver Stadium except O’Brien — who calls the offensive plays — his staff and players are going to immediately know if McGloin has the correct play call. Execution is still the juror, and that’s been a bit of a problem with Penn State’s offense in recent history, particularly against Top 25 opponents. Myriad factors have corroded the whole operation. Most program observers are keenly aware of these, and there’s little point in rehashing them. Nobody under the old offensive regime is around anymore. But what will become readily apparent Saturday is a commandeering presence at quarterback. For McGloin there is no hiding from this.

O’Brien likened the size of the full playbook, which in actuality is more like a reference library, to the NCAA rulebook, which last year ran 434 pages. He also said it may take up to five years to run through the whole thing. The playbook primarily mirrors the one used by the New England Patriots when he coordinated their offense last year. It has some Georgia Tech in it too, where he coached for eight years.

Personnel drives play selection. Following spring practice in May, two-back formations, empty set and two-to-three tight end groupings were portions of the playbook Penn State would look to hone this summer. Then came July 23 and a rash of NCAA sanctions, including college football free agency. Sayonara Silas Redd and Justin Brown, two players who figured to be key pieces of the offense before transferring to Southern Cal and Oklahoma, respectively. O’Brien chose not to re-draw an offensive philosophy. Instead, he’s ready to put his faith in the players who remained.

Five-to-six hours of meetings a day were spent grasping the language of the offense and film study. Throughout training camp, situational football, areas such as red zone offense, two-minute offense, four-minute offense and goal line offense (both goal lines) were hit on each day. If the scenario can occur in a four-quarter game, Penn State wants to be prepared.

Consider red zone: Touchdowns seem like a wise measure for success here, and Penn State converted half its red zone chances into touchdowns last year. In 42 red zone drives, Penn State scored 21 touchdowns and converted 11 field goals for a 76 percent success rate, which ranked 95th out of 120 Bowl Subdivision teams. Thirty-eight schools had fewer red zone drives.

To put that in perspective, the national average was a 61.6 percent touchdown rate when reaching the red zone.

"You're going to see a lot more shots at the end zone,” Gilliam said. “Even right after the 50-yard line. We have play packages in for specific routes that get us into the end zone.”

Added Gilliam: "I don't think we'll be as conservative as we were in the past. You'll see an offense that will try to come out and shoot for the end zone. Our red zone offense has been a lot more successful in practice. You’ll see a high scoring rate once we get down there.”

McGloin has never been one to shy away from the deep ball, but cornerback Stephon Morris said that is happening less frequently and the quarterback’s decision-making has improved.

The truth in that is revealed Saturday, along with a new-look offense. Think of it this way. O’Brien anointed the fifth-year senior as his driver. As offensive coordinator, O’Brien will give McGloin direction. There are many bumps ahead. But, for the first time in years, Penn State’s offense is headed forward.

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