It only took eight weeks, but Penn State coach Joe Paterno finally got it right.
Last week, the iconic coach gave the starting nod to former walk-on Matt McGloin. He played from start to finish and was a big reason why the Nittany Lions were able to walk out of Evanston, Ill., with a 34-24 victory over the Wildcats.
In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll take a closer look at the Lions’ seventh win of the season with our weekly Two-Minute Drill. We’ll also look ahead to this week’s contest with Illinois.
Let’s start with the big decision at quarterback.
It certainly was a welcome sight: Matt McGloin trotting onto Ryan Field last Saturday. While everyone kept waiting for Rob Bolden to relieve McGloin at some point, that point never came. Good thing, too, because the Nittany Lions needed McGloin on the field all night to keep the Wildcats at bay.
Although he won’t say it publicly, JoePa apparently realized that Bolden just might cost the Lions a win. Now, Penn State (4-0 Leaders Division, 7-1 overall) controls its own destiny. Although neither Joe or Jay Paterno will talk about it, the Lion leaders realized that to have a realistic shot at the Big Ten title game, Bolden had to go to the bench.
Now, with four games remaining, the Lions can ready for the stretch run and a possible BCS bowl berth.
Two-Minute Drill: Northwestern
Game Ball To … Matt McGloin
Make no mistake about it, on a day when the defense underperformed, Big Mac stepped up – big time. He was 17 of 26 for 192 yards and two touchdown passes. Perhaps most importantly, he made good decisions and managed the game extremely well. It just goes to show you what the kid is capable of when he’s able to stay in a rhythm. That rhythm comes from starting a game and finishing. Any athlete – from amateur to pro – knows that being in a rhythm is a recipe for success. For McGloin, it all came together on Saturday.
What Was He Thinking? Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.
The Northwestern leader is one of the best young coaches in the country, but he pushed all the wrong buttons on Saturday. Despite getting a turnover on the opening kickoff and grabbing a 7-0 lead early in the game, Fitzgerald made bad decisions all day, putting his team in a big hole. It’s games like Saturday that will probably prevent him from moving on to bigger and better things.
Numerology … 0
That’s the amount of passes thrown by quarterback Rob Bolden. Why is it significant? Well, for the first time all season long, Bolden didn’t start, didn’t get a snap. As the Lions embark on the stretch run, it’s imperative that all of Bolden’s numbers remain at zero. Zero snaps. Zero passes. Zero carries. He needs to remain on the bench unless McGloin gets hurt.
5. Devon Smith – The PSU wideout had six receptions for 110 yards and one touchdown in the game. He caught a 45-yard TD from McGloin that gave the Lions a 14-7 first-quarter lead. With Derek Moye out of the lineup, Smith stepped up when he needed to.
4. Silas Redd – As the season wears on, Redd is getting more and more totes, which is a very good thing. He has been impressive, to say the least. Against the Wildcats, he racked up 164 yards on 18 carries, a little over nine yards per carry. Redd is establishing himself as one of the best backs in the Big Ten and it couldn’t come at a better time for Penn State.
3. Gerald Hodges – Hodges had a monster evening, racking up 14 tackles. He had a sack and a huge interception for the Lions. On the pick, Hodges turned into a running back and rolled up a 63-yard return. It was a monster day for Hodges, who has come into his own over the past several weeks. He is living up to the hype.
2. Joe Paterno – Another week, another trip to the box for JoePa. Actually, it appears that the Lions are better off with Joe upstairs. After falling to Alabama in Week Two, the Lions have reeled off six consecutive victories. The Lions appear to play their best ball when JoePa is not on the sidelines. Perhaps he’s too much of a distraction?
1. The Penn State offense – The offense came to life in Evanston, which was a good sign. Now, the Lions must maintain that for the final four weeks of the season. There are a couple of keys here – Matt McGloin and Silas Redd. Yes, it’s that simple.
On homecoming last season, Illinois destroyed Penn State at Beaver Stadium, 33-13. Chances are that the Lions will remember that drubbing and use it for motivation. Ron Zook is one of the most overrated coaches in the country. We’re not quite sure how he keeps his job in Champaign. It’s probably wins like last season’s in Happy Valley that keep him around. The Lions will have to contend with a potent Illini offense, but we like Tom Bradley’s defense to stiffen and preserve a big victory. The Lions go to 8-1.
Gantdaily.com prediction: Penn State 27, Illinois 17.
Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for gantdaily.com. He’s also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at email@example.com. Also, be sure to check out Morelli OnLion on Facebook!