Breaking down the fall's most gripping quarterback battles. Part of Big Ten Week.
• The System. When it's viable, Penn State remains a fundamentally old-school, run-first team that will always prefer a well-blocked iso over a bubble screen: 70 percent of the Nittany Lions' pass attempts in 2010 came when they were tied or trailing on the scoreboard, which helps explain how a less-than-legendary back like Evan Royster can still wind up breaking the school rushing record. But the Lions have vastly expanded the playbook over the last decade to incorporate a wide range of talents at quarterback — from the electric Michael Robinson to the ponderous Anthony Morelli to the steady Daryll Clark — even turning to frequent spread sets and the zone read out of the shotgun when necessary. Whoever they got back there, they're willing to work with him.
For the guy who emerges from the current crop, that still means keeping him out of trouble. None of the quartet of QBs vying for the job in the spring exactly recalls Robinson with his legs, or Kerry Collins with his arm, most likely meaning another year of leaning heavily on the tailbacks when things are under control and holding breath-holding when they're not.
• The Overachiever: Matt McGloin. This time last year, McGloin's unofficial title all press accounts was "former walk-on," and even he was forced to admit that he understood fans' failure to rally around a guy whose best scholarship offer out of high school was to Youngstown State. Despite his persistent presence in the preseason race, McGloin didn't attempt a pass in the first six games, and everyone seemed basically OK with that.
After watching his progress over the last six games, they'd probably be OK with McGloin not attempting a pass in 2011, either, though no one would have suggested that after his first two starts. With true freshman Robert Bolden on the bench with a concussion, McGloin connected for five touchdown passes and no interceptions in high-scoring wins over Michigan and Northwestern, added flashes of a sentient arm to his solid grasp of the offense and was suddenly entrenched for the rest of the season.
Predictably, the fast start began to go off the rails a week later at Ohio State, where a 14-3 Penn State lead at the half dissolved with not just one but two Buckeye interceptions returned for touchdowns in the second half: