Big Ten: Tide-Lions-091011

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Two games into the 2011 season, the most important question surrounding the Penn State Nittany Lions hasn't been answered.

It isn't whether or not coach Joe Paterno will retire after the season (keep on asking, folks).

It isn't even who should start at quarterback, although that question is closely related. But the issue goes deeper than Rob Bolden vs. Matthew McGloin.

What is Penn State's offensive identity?

"It's definitely still a work in progress," McGloin said. "Today was definitely a football game to be able to see we're at offensively. In my opinion, we're not where we want to be yet."

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesPenn State quarterback Rob Bolden (1) split time with Matthew McGloin against Alabama.
That much is clear after a 27-11 loss to No. 3 Alabama. But how can Penn State's offense expect to make progress without a clear identity?

"Offensive identity?" receiver Derek Moye said. "Honestly, we don't have one. I don't know. We've got to get one."

Other players remain just as mystified.

"It's still early, we've still got a lot of games," running back Silas Redd said. "I really can't tell you what our identity is."

Asked to identify Penn State's offense, guard DeOn'tae Pannell offered a hopeful answer.

"Untapped potential," he said.

Pannell paused.

"We don't really have an identity."

You can't beat the No. 3 team in the country -- and quite possibly the best defense in the country -- without knowing who you are on offense. And you certainly can't pull off the upset on a day when that team figures out who it is on offense.

Alabama's offense isn't a finished product, but the Tide know who they are and who will lead them in the coming weeks. Coach Nick Saban made the decision to go with AJ McCarron at quarterback, and the sophomore came through with a solid, mistake-free performance in his first career road start.

Penn State's coaching staff could take a cue from Saban when it comes to Bolden and McGloin.

Make. A. Decision.

The coaches had all spring to evaluate the quarterbacks and all fall camp. They also had the season opener against FCS Indiana State. And yet there's still no decision on a starter.

Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said the plan was to give Bolden two series Saturday and then give McGloin two series. And that's exactly what Penn State did.

The rotation continued throughout the game: Bolden, McGloin, Bolden, McGloin.

Like a blinking light for an offense stuck in neutral.

"It would be good to have one quarterback, yeah," Redd said. "But both of those guys are good. That's no excuse for us."

Both of them are good, at least in practice, according to Jay Paterno. One hasn't separated himself. They continue to push each other. The competition is good for both and for the team.

The neck-and-neck race Monday through Friday has spilled over into Saturday.

"When they're both practicing really well," Jay Paterno said, "it's kind of hard to tell one to sit down."

But you have to in order to help the offensive identity take shape.

Although neither quarterback lit up Alabama, Bolden appeared to separate himself Saturday. He led both Penn State scoring drives, accounted for 11 of the team's 12 completed passes and all 144 of its passing yards. While he was intercepted once and nearly had other passes picked off, he made some good throws and showed some decent mobility, diving into the end zone for a two-point conversion.

McGloin's line: 1-for-10 passing, zero yards.

"I wish I could have just went back-to-back-to-back, but it's Joe's decision and I have to do what he does," Bolden said. "If I was running things, I would be the only guy out there."

Joe Paterno remains the man in charge. Paterno didn't put Saturday's loss on Bolden and McGloin.

"I thought the quarterbacks played a pretty good football game," Paterno said. "They had one or two throws I'd like to get back, but [the receivers have] got to catch the ball from them. ... The kids handled themselves well, didn't get a lot of help."

Paterno is right. The receivers and tight ends could be helping Bolden and McGloin.

A diving Devon Smith couldn't corral a beautifully thrown ball by Bolden on the first play of scrimmage. The normally sure-handed Moye couldn't come down with some catchable passes. Penn State lost momentum for good in the second quarter after tight end Andrew Szczerba fumbled the ball after catching a pass from Bolden.

"As a receiving corps, we've got to make some more plays," Moye said.

Penn State needs all its offensive position groups to step up and form an identity. But figuring out the quarterback is a vital step in the process.

Can an offense have an identity with two quarterbacks?

"Yes," Jay Paterno said. "We had it in '99 with Rashard Casey and Kevin Thompson. We were a very, very good offensive football team that year."

Penn State also had one of the nation's most talented teams in 1999. It opened the season by thumping No. 4 Arizona 41-7 in the Pigskin Classic. The Lions haven't beaten an Associated Press top-5 team since that day.

Times have changed. Penn State is no longer a nationally elite program, as Saturday showed.

Joe Paterno said he still feels he has a good team, a message echoed by his players. Penn State's defense showed some good signs Saturday, particularly in the front seven.

"We've got a lot of big goals this season," Pannell said. "Whichever way can lead us to a Big Ten championship, that's what I want done."

Can Penn State get to Indianapolis with a two-quarterback system?

"I've seen it done," Pannell said, "but not much."

Video: Penn State's Jordan Hill

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
8:35
PM ET


Adam Rittenberg interviews Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill following the Nittany Lions' 27-11 loss to Alabama.
Some quick thoughts from Beaver Stadium, where No. 3 Alabama outclassed No. 23 Penn State in a convincing victory.

How the game was won: Alabama established its offensive identity -- behind quarterback AJ McCarron -- and capitalized against a Penn State team that has none. The Tide defense buckled down after the opening drive and never let Penn State quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin truly get comfortable. Nick Saban's squad made the big plays in all three phases and limited major mistakes on the road. Alabama also converted two Penn State turnovers into touchdowns and committed no giveaways of its own. McCarron showed tremendous poise in his first career road start and led four sustained scoring drives against a Penn State defense that played well for the most part.

Turning point: An Andrew Szczerba fumble in the second quarter negated a chance for Penn State to grab momentum, but the Nittany Lions still had chances to put up points after forcing back-to-back three-and-outs to begin the second half. Given great field position, Penn State couldn't convert for points and wasted chances to make the game competitive.

Player of the game: Alabama's McCarron. The sophomore avoided major miscues and made several big throws at critical points. He finished the game 19-for-31 passing for 163 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Running back Trent Richardson also had a nice performance (109 rush yards, 2 TDs).

Stat of the game: Penn State's quarterbacks combined to complete 12 of 39 passes for 144 yards with no touchdowns and an interception (Bolden ran in a two-point conversion). The Lions' signal callers have yet to toss a touchdown pass this season, and Penn State nearly was held out of the end zone in its past two games against Alabama. The Lions have dropped eight consecutive games against AP top-5 opponents.

Second guessing: Penn State's decision to continue rotating Bolden and McGloin remains mystifying. Any mistake from Bolden seemingly sends him to the bench, even though he has displayed more upside than McGloin. While McGloin provided a spark late last season, his limitations show in games like these. You can't expect to beat a team like Alabama with a quarterback rotation. Bolden should be the guy.

What it means: Alabama leaves Happy Valley feeling good about its ability to contend for a national title. McCarron displayed tremendous poise in a tough road environment, which will help him in the SEC. The Tide thoroughly outclassed a Big Ten team for the second time in nine months (Michigan State, 2011 Capital One Bowl). Penn State didn't figure out its quarterback situation in the preseason and paid the price Saturday. The Lions boast a much improved defense, particularly up front, but they need to start scoring points themselves if they expect to beat the better teams in the Big Ten.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State has spent a decent amount of time in Alabama territory today and also in last year's game.

But the Nittany Lions haven't been able to hold onto the ball.

After committing three of four turnovers in plus territory last year in Tuscaloosa, Penn State has twice given up the ball in Alabama's half of the field today. Any chance for a late rally seemingly went away when Devon Smith coughed up the ball on a reverse.

Alabama's defenders are terrific at stripping the ball, but Penn State continues to squander great scoring opportunities.

While the Lions defense has performed admirably today, the offense hasn't given this team a chance to win, period. Alabama still leads 20-3 midway through the fourth quarter.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State's defense has come out of the locker room with the right response.

The Lions have forced two three-and-outs, giving the offense excellent field position. I'm impressed with the Penn State front seven, which has bottled up Alabama's star running back Trent Richardson aside from a 22-yard run in the first half.

The defense is keeping the game somewhat within reach, but it's hard to have much faith in the offense. Rob Bolden has been a mixed bag, and he's not getting much help from his receivers today. Penn State has gone back to Matthew McGloin at quarterback, but someone needs to make a play in a hurry.

Alabama leads 17-3 with 10:30 left in the third quarter.

Halftime update: Alabama-Penn State

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
5:11
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- We've reached the half here in Happy Valley, where No. 3 Alabama looks every bit like a national championship contender as it leads No. 23 Penn State 17-3.

Turning point I: Trailing 3-0, Alabama called a fake punt on fourth-and-1 and barely moved the chains. Quarterback AJ McCarron then made several nice throws in leading an 11-play, 69-yard touchdown drive to take the lead.

Turning point II: Penn State's offense finally had some life as Rob Bolden re-entered the game at quarterback. But a fumble by tight end Andrew Szczerba extinguished the momentum, and Alabama converted for a touchdown with 35 seconds left in the half.

Stat of the half: Of Penn State's 92 total yards, 54 came on the game's opening possession, which resulted in a field goal. Alabama outgained Penn State 171-92 in the half.

Player of the half: Alabama's McCarron. The sophomore looks very comfortable in his first career road start, completing 13 of 19 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. This performance should lock up the starting quarterback job.

Penn State miscue proves costly

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
5:03
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State lost last year's game to Alabama for many reasons, the most glaring being turnovers in Alabama territory.

To have any chance to upset the third-ranked Crimson Tide today, the Lions had to capitalize on each trip into Alabama territory. Penn State finally got a spark on offense after Rob Bolden re-entered the game at quarterback, but it vanished when tight end Andrew Szczerba fumbled a likely first-down catch just beyond the midfield stripe.

Alabama converted the miscue into a touchdown, as quarterback AJ McCarron continues to look capable of leading the Tide a long way this season. Penn State's defense is making plays, but not enough to stop McCarron and the Tide.

A 17-3 deficit against arguably the nation's best defense could be insurmountable, and Penn State will need to shift the momentum here soon.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Alabama's AJ McCarron looks more than comfortable in what should be a tough setting.

Penn State's quarterbacks, meanwhile, aren't getting the job done.

Matthew McGloin has done nothing on two series in relief of Rob Bolden, who led a nice opening drive before some shaky throws. Penn State badly needs an identity on offense, and rotating two quarterbacks with limited effectiveness isn't providing it.

The Lions have only 64 total yards, 54 of which came on their opening drive.

I think the Lions should go back to Bolden, who delivered some crisp throws in the opening series.

Penn State also must get more aggressive with its offensive game plan. Far too predictable against an elite defense.

Alabama is up 10-3 and firmly in control with eight minutes left in the first half.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron just grew up a bit.

Can Penn State's quarterbacks answer?

McCarron, making his first career road start in a very tough environment, made several clutch throws on an 11-play, 69-yard touchdown drive. He showed he can thread the needle and got a boost from Marquis Maze, who made a terrific grab over safety Nick Sukay. The sophomore had to gain a lot of confidence from the drive.

Penn State, meanwhile, is using its second quarterback as Matthew McGloin entered the game late in the first quarter. The Lions must find a way to stretch Alabama's defense, which could be next to impossible. They also need to pressure McCarron and get their hands on his passes.

Alabama leads 7-3 at the start of the second quarter.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Points likely won't come easily today, and Penn State just worked extremely hard for three of them.

It took 16 plays, three timeouts and 7:27 of clock, but the Lions are on the board and lead No. 3 Alabama 3-0.

The timeouts could come back to hurt Penn State later in the half. Quarterback Rob Bolden has to do a better job getting the ball snapped. Bolden for the most part looked good on the drive, making a nice throw to Justin Brown. (He had another dropped by Devon Smith).

Silas Redd provided a nice spark for Penn State, making several nifty moves. But the Lions couldn't get the big play they needed against the talented Tide defense.

While Penn State didn't commit the mistakes in Alabama territory that cost it last year, the Lions wanted to get in the end zone.

The good news is Penn State's defense looked strong on the opening series.

Rob Bolden starts again for PSU

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
3:38
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- As expected, sophomore Rob Bolden made his second consecutive start at quarterback for Penn State against No. 3 Alabama.

Bolden, who started the opener against Indiana State, had been listed as a co-starter with junior Matthew McGloin on this week's depth chart. Bolden completed 6 of 12 pass attempts last week.

He made a perfect throw to Devon Smith on his first attempt, but Smith couldn't pull the ball in.

Alabama-Penn State pregame

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
3:17
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- We're about 15 minutes away from kickoff here at Beaver Stadium, where surprisingly it remains bright and sunny.

All four quarterbacks who could play today took significant reps during warmups. Alabama's team speed certainly looks legitimate, and Penn State will need to be careful in the open field.

There are A TON of Alabama fans here, as the crimson is very visible amid the whiteout. The stands look about 95 percent full right now.

Back with much more from Happy Valley.

It's game day at Beaver Stadium

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
2:15
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Greetings from Happy Valley, where No. 23 Penn State takes on No. 3 Alabama in the nation's only matchup of ranked teams.

Great atmosphere around the stadium today -- although I couldn't find the Paternoville tents -- as tailgates are in full swing. The students already are filing in, and this should be an extremely loud building today.

It's sunny and warm right now, but things could change as the afternoon moves along. Colleague Mark Schlabach and I drove through several types of weather this morning from Pittsburgh -- showers, fog, patches of sun. Alabama prepared for rain this week in practice, but I think the wet weather gives Penn State a slight edge.

We've got two very good defenses and four mostly unproven quarterbacks (Alabama's AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims, and Penn State's Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin). We've got two very good groups of linebackers and two sets of dynamic running backs. Alabama has an edge with both groups heading into this game, but Penn State's Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum can make a statement today.

Many folks are predicting a double-digit Alabama win, and they could be right. But I think Penn State proves it has a better team than last year and feeds off the big home crowd. I predicted an Alabama win, but it'll be close.

Both teams will be leaning on their defenses, and the game could be decided by a touchdown from the defense or the special teams. Penn State coach Joe Paterno will be working from the press box for the second consecutive week.

Don't go anywhere as I'll have coverage of Alabama-Penn State throughout the day.

Video: Penn State-Alabama preview

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
12:51
PM ET


Adam Rittenberg previews today's Penn State-Alabama matchup from Happy Valley.

JoePa to coach from press box again

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
12:41
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- As expected, Joe Paterno will coach his second consecutive game from the press box today as Penn State takes on Alabama.

Paterno's condition is improving after he suffered shoulder and pelvis injuries last month when a player crashed into him at a practice. There's a chance he would be on the sideline if rain weren't in the forecast, but the 84-year-old will follow doctors' orders and join us scribes in the box.

Penn State is 9-2 with Paterno coaching from the box, although we'd all like to see him on the sideline where he belongs. He should be back there soon, possibly next week against Temple.

SPONSORED HEADLINES