It's time for Paterno to make QB call

Posted: September 12, 2011

Did you ever have to make up your mind

Pick up on one and leave the other behind

It's not often easy, and not often kind,

Did you ever have to make up your mind?

- John Sebastian

STATE COLLEGE - Sebastian, the front man for the 1960s jug band-flavored rock group, the Lovin' Spoonful, wrote the lyrics of the song that hit No. 2 on the pop charts in 1966, which, somewhat prophetically, is the year that Joe Paterno became head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

For most of the Paterno era, which is now in its 46th season, JoePa hasn't had much difficulty making up his mind about anything involving the Penn State football program, including which of his quarterbacks should be the indisputable starter.

Not that Paterno's choices when it comes to football's most important position are infallible; they aren't.

It was Paterno, or one of his assistants no doubt operating on the boss' directives, who advised Jim Kelly that he'd make a dandy linebacker, which led Kelly to reject the Happy Valley experience and become a record-setting Miami Hurricanes passer en route to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was Paterno who overruled his son, quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, and stuck with struggling starter Anthony Morelli instead of backup Daryll Clark in 2007. Clark was voted first-team All-Big Ten QB the following two seasons.

And, lest anyone forget, not that many do, but it is Paterno's fondness for competent, unexciting, game-managing quarterbacks, not game-changing ones, that has produced exactly one legitimate NFL quarterback, Kerry Collins, over the last 30 years, notwithstanding the pro roster spots periodically occupied by the likes of a Todd Blackledge or a Chuck Fusina or a Kevin Thompson.

So it was - and is - out of character for Paterno to hedge on a choice between the two top candidates to run the 2011 version of the Lions' offense, sophomore Rob Bolden and redshirt-junior Matt McGloin. Paterno, who has always stressed that it is preferable to pick a top guy and to stick with him as long as he gets the job done, continues to make sounds like the round of musical chairs being played by Bolden and McGloin is ongoing, even as compelling evidence was presented during Saturday's 27-11 loss to Alabama that Bolden should be accorded a preferential status in keeping with the No. 1 jersey he wears.

It wasn't as if Bolden played lights-out against a clearly superior Alabama team. He completed 11 of 29 passes for 144 yards, no touchdowns and a ghastly interception that saw him make a poor decision to throw into double coverage. But he also was on the field for the Lions' only two scoring drives, the first coming on Penn State's initial possession, which ended in Evan Lewis' 43-yard field goal, and the second, on the Lions' final chance with the ball, culminating in a 1-yard touchdown run by Silas Redd and a two-point conversion carry by Bolden.

In between was a whole lot of nothing.

"Hopefully, I feel like I took advantage of some of my opportunities," said Bolden, who also acknowledged that he did not take advantage of a few other opportunities.

Still, his up-and-down time at the controls clearly surpassed that of McGloin, the former walk-on, who completed only one of his 10 pass attempts, which went to Redd for no gain.

The crowd of 107,846, at least those who came to support the home team, cast their votes vocally, pleading for Paterno, or whoever was making the offensive substitutions, to return Bolden to the field as McGloin continued to come up empty.

Not that Paterno is apt to be swayed by the sound of cheers or boos, just as he isn't swayed by any media consensus. Nor should he. Fans are a fickle lot, apt to switch allegiances to whichever player holds the hot hand at the moment.

It did not go unnoticed, however, that Alabama coach Nick Saban, who alternated quarterbacks A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims in the Crimson Tide's season-opening, 48-7 rout of Kent State, ended any suspense by starting and sticking with McCarron throughout.

Paterno insists he isn't ready to make that sort of definite commitment yet. He said there is more data to analyze, more tape to break down, more practices to watch.

"I thought the quarterbacks played a pretty good football game," he said while offering his postgame analysis.

But some of the players dropped hints that the quarterback shuffle might be a reason why the offense is having a difficult time establishing any kind of rhythm.

"A little," Redd responded when asked if the Lions were a team in search of an offensive identity. "But it's still early in the season. We have a lot of games to play. We can run the ball, we can throw it. We just have to execute."

In years past, Penn State might have been able to continue to feel its way with Temple next on the schedule. But these Owls are nobody's pushovers any more, having outscored Villanova and Akron by a combined margin of 83-10. Any more lapses by Penn State, regardless of who's the quarterback, and Temple could be primed to knock off the Lions for the first time since 1941.

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