Penn State Nittany Lions: Zack Mills

Big Ten Week 11: Did you know?

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
10:00
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The league has three teams taking a breather on Saturday before resuming their regular-season closing stretch run. But there is still plenty of action around the conference, and these facts and figures will help set the scene for a critical weekend for a few Big Ten squads.
  • Indiana might not play a lot of defense, but it definitely balances that out with an offense that is playing at the highest level in school history. The Hoosiers have scored at least 28 points in nine consecutive games dating back to last season, the longest stretch ever for the program. Much of that success under coach Kevin Wilson has come to the upgrades he's made in the passing game, which has thrown for 300 yards in a game six times already this season.
  • Badly in need of a win to keep its hopes in the division alive, the venue would seem to indicate Michigan has a great chance of getting one this weekend. The Wolverines own the longest active home winning streak among BCS conference teams, rattling off 19 consecutive victories in the Big House. They've still got a long way to go to match the school record of 50, set way back from 1901 to '07, but simply getting to 20 against Nebraska would surely be good enough in the meantime.
  • The Huskers may have needed what amounted to a miracle win last week against Northwestern, but with or without a Hail Mary, they've shown remarkable resiliency when trailing in games over the past two seasons. The latest come-from-behind victory marked the fifth time in the past two seasons Nebraska has rallied from a double-digit deficit to win.
  • After climbing up another rung on the all-time total offense list at Illinois last week, there's only one guy Nathan Scheelhaase needs to catch as his prolific career winds down. Heading into the final four weeks of the regular season, the senior quarterback needs to average 357 yards per game to track down Juice Williams and his school-record 10,594 yards. Scheelhaase jumped ahead of Kurt Kittner last week with a total that was just one yard short of the average he needs to post for the rest of the season.
  • Iowa's formula for success is about as straightforward as it could be this season: Win the turnover battle, win the game. The Hawkeyes are unbeaten in five outings when they have more takeaways than giveaways, and they haven't won a game when the margin is reversed. Coincidentally, Iowa has forced exactly one more turnover than it has given away -- and is one game over .500 for the season as well.
  • As if the Purdue offense hasn't struggled enough, it has to overcome some bad historical mojo this weekend as well. The Boilermakers have been shut out in both of their past two outings, and in program history, they've put up a goose egg four times when playing on Nov. 9. Iowa is looking to add to that misery for a team that has only scored one touchdown since September.
  • Prefer rushing attacks to the pass-happy offenses spreading around the nation? Wisconsin and BYU will be must-see television then. The only two teams in the country with a pair of rushers averaging more than 100 yards per game face off at Camp Randall Stadium in a game that will thrill any fan of ground-based football. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (134.3 yards per game) and James White (100.5) will take turns with BYU's Taysom Hill (105.1) and Jamaal Williams (104.7) in a matchup that might hardly need any passing attempts to entertain.
  • There may be many more to come, but Christian Hackenberg is already etching his name in the record books at Penn State in his first season of leading the offense. The quarterback has thrown for at least 200 yards six times in 2013, the most of any freshman in program history. Hackenberg knocked the 2001 season by Zack Mills out of top spot by tossing for 240 yards in the win over Illinois last week, and he's got four more chances to extend that mark.
  • Playing at home hasn't been much of an advantage for Minnesota since it opened TCF Bank Stadium, but the venue is starting to become more friendly lately. The Gophers are a modest 11-8 in front of their fans since Jerry Kill took over the program, but one more win would get the team back to a .500 all-time record in the five-year-old facility. Minnesota is currently 16-17, but a victory over Penn State would even up its home mark for the first time since Sept. 2010.
Who'll start Saturday -- Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson?

Whatever the answer is, the quarterback will face the same challenge on Saturday by making his first career start. We can't peer into the future to see what the end result will be. (Hey, as Bill O'Brien likes to say, we're no genies.)

But we can look back to see how the last five Penn State quarterbacks fared in their first career starts. Here they are:

Matt McGloin, redshirt sophomore
vs. Michigan on Oct. 30, 2010
Outcome: PSU 41-31
Stats: 17-of-28 for 250 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

Synopsis: After Rob Bolden suffered a head injury against Minnesota the week before, McGloin became the next man up. He was the first former walk-on to ever start under Joe Paterno.

After holding on to a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter, McGloin led PSU on two touchdown drives to give the Lions a 28-10 advantage by halftime. Said Paterno after the game: "That's about as well as we can play."

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIRob Bolden made history in 2010 as the first true freshman quarterback to start an opener for Penn State under coach Joe Paterno.
Rob Bolden, true freshman
vs. Youngstown State on Sept. 4, 2010
Outcome: PSU 44-14
Stats: 20-of-29 for 239 yards, two touchdowns, one interception

Synopsis: He was the first true freshman in a century to start an opener for Penn State, and he fared relatively well against lesser competition.

PSU started off slow and led just 16-7 at halftime, but Bolden was able to get some breathing room when Chaz Powell returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Bolden didn't get much help from the running game -- Evan Royster had 40 yards on 11 carries -- but PSU dominated after the touchdown return.

Daryll Clark, redshirt junior
vs. Coastal Carolina on Aug. 30, 2008
Outcome: PSU 66-10
Stats: 11-of-14 for 146 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

Synopsis: Penn State performed as expected against an FCS cupcake and didn't even really need to pass. PSU rushed for 334 yards and led 38-0 by halftime.

Pat Devlin and Paul Cianciolo played later in the game because, well, there was really no reason for Clark to risk injury. Clark said this afterward: "When you first start, you want everything to go right. I don't think I got touched today."

Anthony Morelli, junior
vs. Akron on Sept. 2, 2006
Outcome: PSU 34-16
Stats: 16-of-32 for 206 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions

Synopsis: Morelli started off hot and drove the Lions to a score on their first drive, on a 42-yard touchdown pass to Deon Butler. He was 7-of-10 passing for 110 yards and two scores on just his first three drives -- and he was the first PSU quarterback since joining the Big Ten to throw three TDs in his first career start.

Said Akron coach J.D. Brookhart: "That kid can throw from one half to the other, 20 yards deep. You won't see a better arm this year."

Michael Robinson, redshirt sophomore
vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 4, 2003
Outcome: Wisconsin 30-23
Stats: 22-of-43 for 379 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions; nine carries for 19 yards

Synopsis: Robinson stepped up when Zack Mills went down the week before with a sprained left knee, and he performed admirably. Although PSU didn't win, Robinson guided PSU on touchdown drives of 74, 80 and 70 yards. And, at the time, only one other PSU quarterback (Mills) had thrown for more yards in a game.

Robinson said this to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Before the game, I kind of thought they would blitz me a little more, because that's what you usually do to a guy making his first start. You kind of want to get in his head a little bit. They played back and basically told me, 'Look, if you're going to beat us, you're going to have to throw the ball.' And I think we did a pretty good job."

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