LINCOLN — Penn State coach Bill O'Brien was asked this week if he thought quarterback Matt McGloin was an All-Big Ten candidate, and the question alone spoke to the comeback the Nittany Lions' senior has made.
Nobody would have put McGloin in the conversation with Denard Robinson, Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez or even James Vandenberg before this season.
Not with the way the past two years had gone for McGloin, a 54.5-percent passer as a sophomore and junior who was prone to interceptions and spent time rotating in and out with equally inconsistent Rob Bolden.
“I've definitely been through the ups and downs,” McGloin said Wednesday.
The question has become legitimate, though, even if O'Brien chose to say it can wait for another day.
McGloin heads into the Lions' game Saturday at Nebraska leading the Big Ten in passing yards (2,436) and completions (211). The former walk-on from Scranton, Pa., also became the first PSU quarterback with five career 300-yard passing days — breaking a tie with Kerry Collins at four — when he lit up Purdue for 321 and two touchdowns Saturday.
McGloin has tied it all together with 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions, by far the best ratio of any signal-caller in the league.
“This guy's had a good year, and the proof is in how he's played,” O'Brien said. “And I'm proud of the kid for how far he's come.”
O'Brien obviously figures into McGloin's late-career development, coming to Penn State after working with Tom Brady the last three seasons as the New England Patriots' quarterbacks coach (and offensive coordinator in 2011). PSU quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher deserves credit, too.
But O'Brien said he knew right away with McGloin that he had a smart, tough and competitive quarterback who wasn't afraid to work — just one who maybe needed some good things to happen for his confidence.
McGloin came into this season with 22 TD passes and 14 interceptions, five of which came against Florida in the Outback Bowl to end the 2010 season. The final blow to his 2011 campaign was a late-season fight with a teammate that left him with a concussion that caused him to miss the TicketCity Bowl.
In addition, the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal led tailback Silas Redd and receiver Justin Brown to defect in the offseason to USC and Oklahoma, respectively, leaving McGloin as one of two returning starters on offense.
Now he's completing 62.1 percent of his throws, has helped Penn State win six of its last seven games and is no longer having to look over his shoulder after a mistake.
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“This is an offense that I've always dreamed of playing in,” McGloin said. “I've just had some great coaching by Coach O'Brien and Coach Fisher. When you're able to work together with two great offensive minds, I mean, the results are going to be great if you put the time and the effort in and have people like that around you.”
McGloin said O'Brien has helped him with his pocket presence and going through his reads. Other small things have fine-tuned his game.
Four more touchdown passes and McGloin can overtake Daryll Clark as the Nittany Lions' all-time leader with 44. Another 568 yards and McGloin can also break the school single-season passing record (Clark threw for 3,003 in 2009). The chase for those records just doesn't mean anything to him right now.
“Nobody really cares what somebody's done after nine games,” McGloin said. “After 12 games, then we'll talk and see what happens. But I still have three games left here, and we want to win this one big on Saturday.”
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