The way that quarterback coach Jay Paterno figures it, Penn State is miles ahead of where it stood a year ago. When spring football begins on Saturday, the Nittany Lions will have two quarterbacks with starting experience. Before the 2010 season, Penn State didn’t have a quarterback who had taken a snap.
“We know we can put guys in a game and they won’t panic,” Paterno said.
Redshirt junior Matt McGloin and sophomore Rob Bolden occasionally thrived but mostly survived their first taste of college football as they led Penn State to a 7-6 record. Bolden started and learned on the job through the first seven games of the season. He completed 112 of 193 passes for 1,360 yards with five touchdowns, seven interceptions and an efficiency rating of 118.52.
When Bolden got hurt against Minnesota, he got Wally Pipped. McGloin started the last six games, completing 118 of 215 passes for 1,548 yards with 14 scores, nine picks and a rating of 128.48. Bolden stewed through the second half and considered a transfer. A meeting with head coach Joe Paterno convinced Bolden to stay.
“Bolden didn’t play much down the stretch,” Jay Paterno said. “He probably should have. That was on me, not on him. He wanted to know, 'Is the competition going to be realistic? Have you guys made your mind up?' Joe said no. Joe told him and his dad, ‘I’ve been doing this for 60-something years. I’ve built up a lot of trust. If I tell you it’s an open competition, you have to have a little faith in me.'”
The coaches liked how Bolden didn’t mope through winter conditioning. He passed the body-language test at the crack-of-dawn workouts. McGloin and Bolden have spent the winter studying video, reading defenses and relearning pass patterns so that they may hit the practice field running on Saturday. Jay Paterno went back and looked at how they played last season. The errors he saw were made not out of ignorance but out of competition. They tried to make plays happen, force plays that weren’t there to be made.
“Really, Bolden played better than I thought,” Jay Paterno said. For instance: Bolden’s two interceptions against Alabama? He got hit as he threw each of them.
If Joe Paterno sees one quarterback separate from the other, he may name a first-team choice by the end of the spring. He may not. As he said, we’ll have to trust him. But the Nittany Lions coaches are looking for more out of McGloin and Bolden than the ability to read the offense.
“Leadership is going to be important,” Jay Paterno said. “We did not have it last year. We had some but not enough. We have talent. We have a team that can do some really good things. It’s a matter of what level of commitment they need to make.”