- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Penn State is off this week, but it is merely the calm before the storm for the Nittany Lions. At 8-1 and 5-0 in the Big Ten, they lead the Leaders Division by 2.5 games. But they will have to get through a November schedule that sees them play Nebraska, at Ohio State and at Wisconsin. I caught up with quarterback Matt McGloin this week to talk about the season so far, what lies ahead and, of course, the always-interesting quarterback situation in State College:
Let's start by going back to last week. You helped put together a game-winning, 80-yard drive against Illinois on the final possession after the offense hadn't done much all game. What changed on that last drive?
Matt McGloin: I think something this team has is, we understand that when we need to make a drive or do something, we do it as a team. Right before the half at Northwestern, we put a drive together. Against Iowa, we put a drive together to score. So I think the team realizes that when we need to get things done, we have to get it done. That's something we were stressing Saturday. We were saying, "It's going to happen, it's going to happen. It's only a matter of time." It happened a bit late. Obviously the fans were excited about it, but we want to try to keep out of those situations as we go along, because when you play teams like Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin, you might not be that lucky. You might not be in that close of a games in the end.
As a quarterback in that situation, knowing you have to put a drive together, what do you say to your teammates in the huddle or before you take the field?
MM: You have to be confident as a quarterback in those situations. You have to tell your guys you're going to get the job done. Every quarterback dreams of that position -- three minutes to go, you need to score. That's pretty much what you dream about doing as a kid, dream about putting that drive together. If you don't want to be in that position, you're playing the wrong game. And as a quarterback, like I said, you have to remain calm and confident. You have to tell your guys you're going to score whether you believe it or not, because it truly does affect how they play.
There's been so much talk about who's starting at quarterback for Penn State. Now that you've started the past two games, do you feel like you're established as the starter, or is it still something that could change every week?
MM: I hope they do continue to start me, but whether they do or they don't, it won't have an effect on my play or the team's play. They've done a great job of adjusting to who starts week in and week out. Our team is really full of unselfish guys. We've done a great job of putting the team ahead of individual performances, and that's something you really don't see a lot. That's the reason why we've been so successful this year.
Is there a big difference for you between starting and coming in on the second or third series?
MM: I think it's more of a comfort feeling. Running out there on that field is exciting. Taking the first snaps, trying to move the ball and get a jump on guys is something I would like to be in a position to do. At the same time, if I'm not, then I'm OK with it, because when I do get in there, it's a bit of the same feeling. It's just trying to get the job done. But it does make a difference whether you're in there first or in the second quarter.
You guys are 8-1, but you're not ranked in the top 15 of either major poll and there seem to be a lot of doubters. Do you feel like there is a lack of respect for this team?
MM: Well, there's always going to be critics out there or people who think you're not as good as you really are. What we realize is that, as long we continue to win, they'll have no choice but to continue to move us up in the polls. It's hard not to pay attention to it, because we're 20-, 21-year-old guys and you're going to pay attention to it, and it's exciting. But as long as we continue to win, they will have to start to believe and keep moving us up. To be honest with you, at the beginning of the year our goal was to be 8-1 or 9-0 at the bye week, and we truly believed that. We're at that goal right now, and all we have to do is continue to win to make those doubters believe.
How much of a difference do you think style points make? You've won a lot of close games without big offensive numbers.
MM: I'm sure it does. When you beat teams by three or if it's like what Wisconsin was doing at the beginning of the year in beating people by 30 or 40 points, people are going to notice. At the end of the day, it's still a win. So whether you win by one or 100, it's still in the win category. And this team knows we're going to do what it takes to win, whether it be by a little or a lot. To us it doesn't matter, but to a lot of people it does matter whether we blow teams out or not, which is why I think we're not ranked as high as we should be.
Your defense has been playing at a very high level all year. How does that affect how you approach things as a quarterback?
MM: We have a tremendous defense. That's obvious. They've been busting their butts week in and week out, and coach [Tom] Bradley has done a great job with them. As a quarterback, you need to understand that you have that defense, and that what your job is then is to control the football and not make mistakes. You need to put drives together, you need to move the chains, but you don't need to have an offense like Oklahoma's or other teams that are going to put up big points. You need to control the game as a quarterback and just put some type of points on the board for your defense. That's something that we're starting to learn as a team, and that's really, really going to be crucial in the next three weeks when you play teams like Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin. You need to control the ball, keep your offense on the field and give your defense a rest.
You've mentioned the remaining schedule a couple of times, and it's obviously going to be a major challenge. But how much fun is it to have these three huge games left, knowing that everything is in front of you?
MM: It's exciting. It's a position we love to be in. It's a position every player should want to be in, knowing all eyes are on you right now in the Big Ten. That's the fun part about football and why you play the game. You want to be in those positions, you want the spotlight to be on you and you want to succeed in those moments. That's really what it comes down, is that this is going to make or break our year in these next three weeks. So we're looking forward to it, and we're glad to have a week off, but we're still focused on the task at hand. Right now, that means beating Nebraska.
What would mean to you to win a Big Ten title, given the tough times the team had last year and how your own career has gone?
MM: Words really can't describe what it would mean to be in Indianapolis and get that Big Ten title. That is in the back of our minds and is something we think about on a daily basis as football players. But as the same time, you have to realize you have a long way to go to get there. We have a bye week right now and are going to enjoy some time off, but we're going to focus on Nebraska. What this team has been able to do and why we're successful is that we've been able to focus on just practice and then the game. We've been doing a great job of taking things one day at a time, one game at a time, and that's what it takes to be successful. But I would be lying if I said that being in Indianapolis on Dec. 3 wasn't in the back of our minds.
You've done a good job of limiting mistakes -- just three interceptions this year and you didn't throw one the first five games. How much of an emphasis was that for you this year?
MM: I think last year I did take a lot of chances, which was great at times, but I also made some poor decisions at times. And knowing what type of defense you have -- I went up against those guys every day in camp and in practice, so we knew they had something special. As a quarterback, you take a step back and say, "It's not your job to make huge plays. It's your job to control the offense." And that's something we've been able to do, which is why we're 8-1. We've limited our mistakes and focused more on moving the chains rather than force that big play. Big plays are going to happen. It's just a matter of time.
The college football world is focused on Alabama-LSU this weekend. You gave Alabama its closest game yet. What was it like going up against that defense?
MM: It's a great defense and coach [Nick] Saban does a great job. They fly around the football. We'd love to have another crack at them. The game didn't go the way we wanted it to. It should have been closer, but we made some mistakes. That's over with, and we wish Alabama the best of luck this week. We gave them our best shot, and we did play them pretty close, but there's nothing we can do about that game.
If they win, it could end up helping you down the line.
MM: Exactly. We hope for something like that.
Finally, you're a journalism major. How would you rate the way the media has covered Penn State so far this season?
MM: Aw, jeez. [Laughs]. To be honest with you, I can't really get into great detail or say the things I would like to say. But it has been tough. Obviously we've been getting a lot of criticism and not too much respect on TV and in the papers. But at the same time, something like that fuels us as a team and gets us going and moving in the right direction. So hopefully you guys continue to keep showing us some disrespect and things like, that because it is helping us.