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Paul Jones' struggles at QB and move to TE make Matt McGloin the Lions' most important player
September 9, 2012 - Cory Giger
It's fascinating how things work out in life sometimes, and we'll use Matt McGloin as an example.
There has always been a sizable number of Penn State fans who can't stand McGloin, who believe he stinks, who can't believe a former walk-on is the starter, who don't like his attitude and who would rather see anyone but him at quarterback.
In spite of all that, McGloin has become the most important player on the team, and basically any hope the Nittany Lions have of enjoying even a decent season rests squarely on his shoulders.
The Paul Jones supporters surely were disappointed to hear Saturday that the former prized recruit not only has been dropped to third-string quarterback, he's also apparently so ineffective running the offense that coach Bill O'Brien now believes the best way for him to help the team is by playing some tight end.
Has any program in the country squandered more quarterback talent in recent years than PSU? Rob Bolden, Kevin Newsome and Pat Devlin all came to Penn State as highly touted recruits but left having accomplished virtually nothing, and Jones appears to be next in line.
True freshman Steven Bench has moved up to No. 2 on the quarterback depth chart, and he showed poise while doing a few nice things coming on when McGloin suffered an elbow injury in the first half at Virginia. Still, there's no way Bench knows all the ins and outs of O'Brien's complicated offense yet after arriving on campus in June.
With all due respect to Bench, if McGloin can't play, PSU probably can't win, at least once the Big Ten season starts.
The Lions could be in trouble at running back, with starter Bill Belton (ankle) and backup Derek Day (shoulder) injured. We'll see if Belton can return this week after missing the trip to Virginia, but it's still a big question mark if the converted receiver can effectively handle the tailback spot.
O'Brien would like to redshirt true freshman running back Akeel Lynch, but he might not have that luxury if Belton, Day, Zach Zwinak and Curtis Dukes can't stay healthy or get the job done.
The kicking game is a disaster. After Sam Ficken missed four field goals and an extra point in the 17-16 loss to Virginia, it's clear that points won't be a given on any good drive unless the offense actually gets into the end zone.
The defense did a great job forcing four turnovers, but it also couldn't get off the field on huge third downs for the second straight week (Virginia was 7-of-9 in the second half after Ohio was 11-of-12 in the opener).
McGloin was able to shake off his elbow injury and threw a 30-yard TD pass to Allen Robinson early in the fourth quarter to give PSU a 13-10 lead, which later reached 16-10. But the defense failed with the game on the line as the Cavaliers converted all four third-down situations -- including third-and-16 from their own 22 -- in driving 86 yards for a winning touchdown.
Whether his detractors like it or not, this PSU team will go as far as McGloin takes it. Maybe that's only to a 5-7 or 6-6 record, but the Lions won't get anywhere close to that win total without him.
SUBHD: Afterthoughts ...
* This is a rotten time to be a college football fan in central and western Pennsylvania, with both PSU and Pitt facing some of the toughest times in the proud programs' respective histories.
Pitt fans aren't dealing with an embarrassing scandal and severe NCAA sanctions, and they'll be the first to rub that in the faces of Penn State fans.
Then again, the Panthers got humiliated at home by an FCS team in Youngstown State, 31-17, in their opener and looked horrible in a 34-10 defeat at Cincinnati on Thursday.
Pitt is going to get pounded this week by Virginia Tech and looks like a two or three win team, with one of those being against a lousy FCS squad in Gardner-Webb in two weeks.
The fact that Pitt is playing two FCS schools in the first four weeks is a slap in the face to its fans.
* The Big Ten looks like a big dud this season. Even with all of their problems, the Lions could have a chance to stay close against most opponents. They could win three or four league contests if they get markedly better in the kicking game and other areas, although if they don't they could lose all of those games.
* It's still baffling that PSU's defense is going primarily without a nickel package. Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said they were in the nickel for one or two plays Saturday, and Virginia was able to cash in with several long third-down conversions.
* Ficken tweeted this Saturday night after the game: "Appreciate all the support from teammates, friends, family, and nittany nation." He was getting heavily criticized on Twitter, which didn't sit well with PSU tight end recruit Adam Breneman, who tweeted, "For all you classless fans tweeting at @sficken1 for missing field goals, I'd like to see you go out there and make those kicks. Grow up."
* Penn State opened up as a 6-point favorite over Navy.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.
"He's going to be fine at that spot. Big guy, he can run and he can catch. He's a real athletic guy. That's like a perfect spot for him. I'm trying to help him as much as I can. If he has any trouble with routes or anything, I've just been teaching how to run routes." -- TE Kyle Carter on Paul Jones playing TE