Saturday, November 17, 2012
O'Brien's influence evident in 2012 Lions
By Josh Moyer
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Offensive guard John Urschel rubbed his chin and just smiled at the questions Saturday afternoon.
How could Penn State lose 10 offensive starters in one offseason and somehow average 10 points more every game? How could Penn State set several offensive records Saturday with so many new starters?
Urschel, a man who often responds to news conference questions with, "Let me ponder that for a moment," didn't hesitate. He just smiled and said two words after the Nittany Lions toppled Indiana 45-22.
He didn't need to say anymore. He didn't elaborate, didn't shrug. There was no more to add. O'Brien's been the coach this Penn State team has needed -- not just to bring the team together after the Jerry Sandusky scandal or past the sanctions. But to update an inefficient offense that seemed about as cutting-edge as a disco ball.
Penn State's just always been an old, throwback run-first team. Since the very beginning of its 126-year history.
Seven years before the topic of a forward pass was even broached -- before Penn State was known as the Nittany Lions -- Penn State ran. They ran when football first appeared live on fuzzy televisions. And they even ran the last time they had a first-round NFL quarterback in Kerry Collins.
They ran and ran until now. Until the Bill O'Brien era and the era of weekly changes.
Matt McGloin had his fourth 300-plus yard passing game Saturday against Indiana.
O'Brien's taken Allen Robinson, an offensive afterthought who finished with three catches last season, into the record books with the most catches by a PSU player in a single season. He's taken last year's third-string fullback, Zach Zwinak, and helped him become a player who could finish the season with more rushing yards than USC transfer Silas Redd.
And he's coached up Matt McGloin, who spent more time fuming on the sideline last season than behind center. McGloin also sent the record books back to the printing press by passing for more yards in a season (3,066) and the most career touchdowns (45) than any other Penn State quarterback.
"[O’Brien] and Coach [Charlie] Fisher have done a great job of teaching me how to play quarterback the correct way," McGloin said. "They've been doing such a good job of it. They have so much experience that it can't help but rub off on you."
Read between the lines there. McGloin never ever said the same of Jay Paterno, whose legacy of PSU quarterbacks seems to be that a majority regressed (See: Bolden, Robert and Morelli, Anthony). Jay Paterno knew McGloin for four seasons before he was dismissed from his coaching post -- but he never saw enough of the signal-caller to name him the indisputable starter.
O'Brien needed one spring.
The dimple-chinned coach smiled Saturday when he recalled the first time he knew McGloin was something special. He asked McGloin to draw up a play -- the read, the coverage, the protections. Everything.
McGloin strolled up to the white board and, O'Brien said, completed everything in about three seconds.
"It was Gun Trips Right 64 Special H-Sneak, I'll never forget that," O'Brien said. "And it was bang -- and I just knew at that point we had a kid who was working out, who wanted to be the starting quarterback."
The outspoken McGloin thought Robinson didn't get a fair shake last season. And it's clear -- by the benching of Bill Belton -- that O'Brien doesn't mind re-evaluating talent on a weekly basis. He's taken last year's scraps and turned them into star performers, coveted by every Big Ten team.
McGloin passed for 395 yards against Indiana, and Robinson caught 10 passes for 197 yards. With the old staff, those two could still be riding the bench right now. At best, those stats might be spread over two or three games. But O'Brien has taken a group of unwanteds -- a group with a strong bond fighting to rebuild the university's reputation -- and turned them into something drawing praise and respect from every corner of the country.
Urschel wasn't asked what Penn State's recipe to future success might be. But his past answer would fit just fine right here.