Hawkeyes bring out worst in Penn State

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Saturday brings what I guess you might call a key interdivisional clash between two teams determined to uphold the honor and tradition of the Others Receiving Votes section of the weekly college football polls.

But Iowa-Penn State is so much more than that, particularly in this incarnation, as the Nittany Lions still have a chance to make something potentially cathartic of a so-far ridiculous season beginning at 3:30 p.m. inside semi-beauteous Beaver Stadium.

But probably won't.

Joe Paterno's first challenge this week is to immunize his fellas against whatever pathology invades their systems at the mere sight of the Hawkeyes. No one would necessarily confuse Iowa football with an irresistible object, but when Paterno's team appears on the same lawn, Iowa is Alabama. Or Iowa is Southern California. Or Iowa is Green Bay or Seal Team Six.

C'mon, Iowa?

Three times in a row Iowa has beaten Penn State, eight times in the past nine games, and Kirk Ferentz's team deserved to win every single time. Penn State's ability to even modulate this 21st Century Pox will depend largely on the performance of its quarterback, a variable I'll attempt to analyze just as soon as the Paternos pick one.

No hurry; October isn't even half over.

Perhaps you noted that JayPa, the coach's son currently holding down one-half of the offensive coordinator's job, bristled at quarterback questions in the minutes after last Saturday's no-touchdowns-on-five-red-zone-appearances collapse at Indiana, in which Rob Bolden played quarterback until he proved again that he can't, cueing Matt McGloin, who can but often doesn't, even when he does.

Asked for the 1,000th time if he felt he should be the starter, McGloin said, "I would like to be out on the field first."

Really? Has he seen that offensive line?

"We have two ones, OK," Jay said after McGloin's 74-yard touchdown pass to Derek Moye held up for a 16-10 victory against the dreadful Hoosiers. "One happens to go out and take the first snap. As far as I'm concerned, it's a nonissue."

It would be a nonissue if touchdowns were piling up in drifts all over Penn State's data sheets, but of 13 Nittany Lion touchdowns so far, nine came against rent-a-victims Indiana State and Eastern Michigan, two others against Temple, leaving exactly two touchdowns in eight quarters of play against teams from major conferences, Alabama and Indiana.

Joe Paterno always has been, he says, a one-quarterback guy, and he knows as well as anyone the ineradicable football dictum that a team with two quarterbacks is a team without one. But the Bolden-McGloin do-si-do is more than just another confirmation. It's the most tangible on-field symptom of a program in steep decline despite a 4-1 record that is pure eyewash.

I've never been one to say that two quarterbacks trying to implement an offense run by two offensive coordinators overseen by a head coach who spends the two halves of a football game in two different places isn't the way to do things.

Until now.

The relationship between the Paternos and Bolden has not been the best, but it's little short of toxic for the football team in the near term. Already stung when top quarterback recruits Pat Devlin and Kevin Newsome transferred, Joe couldn't let Bolden get away when he wanted to do the same. Looks like Joe may have guaranteed Bolden would start in exchange for denying his transfer request. At the same time, Jay still needs Bolden to demonstrate that he can take a top quarterback recruit and make him into, of all things, a top quarterback. He does better with walk-ons.

So walk-on McGloin, who has come out of the bullpen in all five games, is completing 58 percent of his throws, four of them for touchdowns, with no interceptions. Bolden has completed only 46 percent with only one touchdown and has thrown four interceptions. McGloin has been calling signals for eight touchdown drives to Bolden's four, and for 32 to Bolden's 15 in the past two seasons.

So Jay is right; it's a nonissue, but only if McGloin starts. If Bolden starts again Saturday, that's an issue, an issue for which Jay will be criticized, allowing Joe to invoke the term "poor Jay" again after Iowa wins its fourth in a row in the series.

You would marvel at the insanity of Penn State if it hadn't been going on for most of this century. The worst game staged at Beaver Stadium came just seven years ago this month, when Ferentz purposely took a safety in the fourth quarter to preserve a 6-4 "victory."

At that time, the star quarterback recruit was Michael Robinson, whom Joe consistently referred to as one of the best athletes in the nation. No one disagreed. Robinson spent part of each week practicing at wideout, he was so fast, and part of the week practicing at quarterback, where he whipped long exquisite passes that, unfortunately, only he could catch.

Whatever became of Michael Robinson?

He's a fullback for the Seattle Seahawks.

Unless something drastic changes in Happy Valley, the next blue chip quarterback who goes to Penn State will be -- what's that legal term? -- declared unfit to stand trial.

Correction/Clarification: (Published October 7, 2011) Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden has thrown four interceptions this season. A story Thursday incorrectly reported the number.

Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com .


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