Penn State Football Quarterback Debate: Rob Bolden vs. Matt McGloin

Brett LissendenSenior Analyst IAugust 28, 2011

Joe Paterno has still not named a starting quarterback for next weekend's season opener against Indiana State.  According to some rumors, both Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden could see action early on in the game.

Bolden and McGloin essentially split time at quarterback a season ago, with Bolden getting all of the starts for the first half of the season and McGloin functioning as the starter for the second half.  The issue I address in this article is which quarterback should be the starter for 2011; meaning, which quarterback will give the team the best chance of winning.

Bolden, currently a sophomore, completed 112 passes in 193 attempts last season for 1,360 yards.  This included five touchdowns and seven interceptions for a passer rating of 118.5.   Bolden also ran the ball 30 times for 80 yards and a touchdown.

McGloin, now a redshirt junior, connected on 118 of his 215 pass attempts for 1,548 yards.  Fourteen of these were for touchdowns as opposed to nine interceptions, as McGloin compiled a passer rating of 128.5.  Additionally, while McGloin had only 26 yards rushing on 13 carries, he did rush for two touchdowns.

Based on these numbers, we can see that Bolden had a slightly higher completion percentage.  However, McGloin threw for more yards and much more touchdowns (although also slightly more interceptions).

For a closer look now, I analyze their respective performances in each of the games from last year.

Bolden was the starter and saw all of the action for the first six games of the season.  The Nittany Lions were 3-3 in these six games, including wins over Youngstown State, Kent State and Temple, and losses to Alabama, Iowa and Illinois.  The wins were all over much weaker opponents, and none of them were particularly impressive wins. 

The Nittany Lions were actually losing for nearly the whole game against Temple before coming back in the fourth quarter.  Bolden threw an interception in all of these games except for the Temple game, and had two in the Alabama and Kent State games. 

His best game statistically was the opener against Youngstown State, when he threw for 239 yards (his single-game high) and two touchdowns (also his single-game high).  The losses to Alabama and Iowa were hardly unexpected, but the blowout loss to Illinois was one of the most embarrassing in recent memory for the Nittany Lions, particularly since it was on Homecoming.

Then, in the next game at Minnesota, Bolden got hurt in the second quarter.  When he left the game, he had completed 11 of his 13 pass attempts for 130 yards and a touchdown.  The Nittany Lions were also winning at the time by a score of 14-7. 

After the injury, McGloin stepped in as the starter.  He also had only 13 pass attempts, and completed much fewer (six) and for far less yardage (76 yards).  However, McGloin did threw for two touchdowns (along with an interception). 

However, the most important thing was that Penn State ended up winning this game 33-21, and it was really not even that close, as they were up 33-14 late in the fourth quarter. 

The next game, a night game at home against Michigan, was arguably the biggest win of the season for PSU.  McGloin played the entire game with Bolden still injured and was able to flourish in the spotlight.  He threw for 250 yards on 28 pass attempts, including one touchdown and no interceptions.  This was the game that alerted the PSU fans and coaching staff that McGloin could be a legitimate option at starting quarterback.

However, Bolden was still the starter for the next game against Northwestern as he returned from his injury.  In two drives, he completed three of four pass attempts, but failed to lead the team to any points.  Penn State got down on the scoreboard early in this game, and McGloin replaced Bolden at quarterback after his two drives and with PSU trailing 7-0. 

PSU continued to fall behind, going down 21-0, but right before the half, McGloin led the Lions on a terrific drive ending in a touchdown pass.  McGloin continued this momentum in the second half, throwing for three more touchdowns and leading the team on a furious comeback that culminated in a final score of 35-21, giving JoePa his 400th win.

This effort essentially secured McGloin the starting job for the remainder of the season.  However, the Lions had only one win against three losses in their final four games.  The lone win was against Indiana, and the three losses were to Ohio State, Michigan State and Florida.  McGloin threw for two touchdowns in each of the last three regular season games and threw for over 300 yards in the regular season finale against Michigan State.

All in all, Penn State had three wins and three losses when Bolden was the quarterback, and also three wins and three losses when McGloin was at the helm (since both played key roles in the Minnesota game, I do not count that win for either). 

However, the three wins for Bolden came in non-impressive fashion and against much inferior opponents.  The three wins for McGloin all came against conference opponents. 

Further, the three losses for Bolden were all essentially blowouts, games that the Lions never really had a chance of winning.  In McGloin's three losses, the Lions were at least competitive for most of the game.  They also happened to be against three very good teams (two of the Big Ten co-champions and a quality team from the SEC).

The overall individual stats and team performance/competitiveness all point towards McGloin being the top choice.  The main argument against McGloin is the horrendous way he took care of the ball in the bowl game against Florida.  Five interceptions from one player in one game should never happen at any level of football, but to be fair, Penn State still had a chance of winning that game at the end (until the fifth interception happened). 

It is fair to use interceptions as a criticism of McGloin, but Bolden also threw a lot of interceptions with his playing time.  Bolden may be better at shorter and safer passes, but McGloin gives the offense much more firepower.  He showed great arm strength with a lot of his passes last year, and the Nittany Lions were able to move the ball much more impressively with him in the game.

The other option worth mentioning is to play both quarterbacks consistently.  This has succeeded for many teams, but really it requires two quarterbacks that bring something completely different to the table. 

I'm not sure that Bolden really brings much to the table that McGloin can't, with maybe the slight exception of being a running threat.  If Bolden can be a legitimate threat to break down defenses with his legs, then I might be much more in favor of a two-quarterback system.

This analysis also does not take into account any improvements the two quarterbacks have made since last season.  I would hope that both have improved; but if one has made much more strides than the other then obviously that makes a big difference as well. 

As it stands currently, McGloin definitely has to be the top choice as starter.  He has shown that he puts up better numbers and gives PSU a better chance to win more games.


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