How to End the Debate

Nobody likes it. Not the players, not the fans, and not the QBs themselves. But as Penn State’s offense has sputtered through a September in which it was supposed to be fine-tuning for Big Ten play, the dual-headed quarterback quandary seems no closer to resolution. Now, with just one inferior foe left on the schedule (next Saturday at Indiana), the staff has one last chance to see what they need to see. To do this, however, they’ll need to change the way they’ve done things in the opening month.

After yesterday’s solid but costly win over Eastern Michigan (in which defensive superstars Mauti and Lynn were injured), neither quarterback separated himself. If you look at the stat line, McGloin had a better game by far, but rushing to anoint him the permanent starter would be unfair. Remember Alabama anyone? Remember McGloin in that game, he of the 1-10 for zero yards performance? On the flip side, Bolden led PSU on two scoring drives in that game despite only getting half the snaps against an Alabama defense that looked awfully tough yesterday against a vaunted Arkansas passing attack. He also led Penn State’s final touchdown drive on the road against an underrated Temple team (38-7 winner on Saturday at Maryland?!?!), converting two fourth downs on the way in.

Do you want to judge your starting quarterback by how they play against the Alabamas of the world or the Eastern Michigans?

So, if the quarterback position still isn’t settled—as I believe it isn’t—what should Penn State do? The current rotation of Bolden for two series and then McGloin for two has been ineffective at best. Both guys can’t help but look over his shoulder and feel pressured to light up the scoreboard with every little opportunity he gets.

So try something different. Give each player a half. Tell them beforehand. Stick with the plan, sink or swim. It’s Indiana. They lost to North Texas, Ball State, and Virginia. If the offense did nothing but take a knee every play, the defense alone should be able to win this one.

The next question is: who gets which half?

First-Half Starter

Penn State should give the first half to McGloin. Reward him for his strong showing last Saturday. Put him in the position where he’s done some of his best work. The first halves against Ohio State and Florida last year were impressive, so if McGloin can ignite a team from the get-go, let him prove it. On the flip side, most offenses (not just Penn State’s) struggle on the opening possessions. Defenses are high on adrenaline, and offenses often execute sloppily As our quasi-starter, Rob Bolden has taken the team through these rusty series so far this season. But before any rhythm can be developed—for him or the offense—he’s out and McGloin (cold off the bench) comes in. Give McGloin the first half this week. We’ve seen him in relief; let’s see him start.

Second-Half Starter

Coming out of the locker room at halftime, Rob Bolden should lead the team. I’m not going to make excuses for the kid. He’s had ample opportunities to shine at a premiere BCS-level program. But giving him the second half puts him in a spot where we’ve never seen him. Ever since his concussion against Minnesota last season, Bolden has been second-guessed by the staff. A slow start at Northwestern got him the quick hook; a quarterback competition through spring and fall camps kept him wondering. And now this season, no matter how well he does, he knows that on one of the next drives, he’ll be holding his helmet on the side. Let him have the end of the game—whether we’re up by 40 or trailing by 7. Let’s see what he can do with no McGloin-in-the-rearview. The Hoosier defense will be worn down and maybe even off-kilter with a new signal-caller in the game. Our offense will be in its best rhythm of the day. Let’s see how he does as the relief pitcher; we’ve seen enough of him as the hesitant starter.

Monday Decision

Then, on Monday after the Indiana game, name a full-time starter. The coaches should have seen enough of both by that point—nearly half a season of each quarterback in 2010 and now a split season for the first five games of 2011. Name a starter. Give one guy all the first team reps before we face a notoriously problematic Iowa defense. Let the team settle its identity issue on offense. Name a starter. Our season depends on it.

Bolden. McGloin. One or the other. It probably matters little. Just pick one. Indiana is the final proving ground. Right now, we have two quarterbacks, and we have no quarterbacks.