Alabama's Saban believes in Penn State's Bolden


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban was impressed with Rob Bolden's first start at quarterback for Penn State.

He thought the true freshman showed a lot of poise in a 30-point victory against Youngstown State this past weekend.

Bolden, 6 feet 3 and 221 pounds, completed 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns, both of which went to wide receiver Brett Brackett. Bolden threw one interception but played a solid all-around game.

He was rewarded for his effort two days later, being named Big Ten Conference co-freshman of the week.

"He played really well," Saban said. "You would never know he was a freshman, that's for sure. He has a very good arm and is very accurate. He had a lot of poise.

"They didn't have any game-management issues, fumbled snaps, delay of games. The guy hard-counts like a veteran and draws the other team offside.

"He didn't make any bad decisions, stood in the pocket, took a couple of licks and completed balls. It is hard to believe that the guy is a freshman."

Bolden's second assignment will be a whole lot tougher. He will lead No. 18 Penn State against No. 1 Alabama in his first road start Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

"It's going to be the exact opposite of what the first game was like," said right guard Stefen Wisniewski from Central Catholic High School. "At Alabama, those 100,000 fans, they're not going to be for us, they're going to be against us. It's going to be a completely different thing."

The only other true freshman quarterback to start for a Joe Paterno-coached team on the road against Alabama was Tony Sacca in 1988. He was dreadful, completing just 8 of 28 passes for 98 yards and an interception in an 8-3 loss to the Crimson Tide at Legion Field in Birmingham. He also had 7 carries for minus-29 yards.

Paterno realizes Bolden will be under constant pressure from Alabama's front seven, but hopes Bolden doesn't get happy feet and scramble out of the pocket too much.

"Do I think he's going to have the kind of success he had [against Youngstown State]?" Paterno said. "No, Alabama's too good for that. Hopefully, he comes out of that ballgame feeling that he's learned something.

"I think we can put him in a position where he has some success."

Alabama, the defending national champion, started fifth-year senior Greg McElroy (6-3, 225) at quarterback in its season-opening 48-3 win against San Jose State. He completed 13 of 16 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown.

But redshirt freshman A.J. McCarron (6-4, 190) came off the bench to complete 9 of 14 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown.

Saban said not to read too much into how many snaps McCarron received.

"We don't have a QB controversy," Saban said. "There were reasons for what we did last week, but that's over and done with. The reasoning and the purpose was A.J. had never played in a game. He's a very capable guy, he's going to be a very good player here. He's a great sort of a guy to be in the position he's in right now. But he needed to get game experience."

McElroy, MVP of last year's SEC championship game, has won his past 31 starts at quarterback -- 16-0 as a high school senior in 2005 and 15-0 at Alabama.

He has attempted 114 passes since his most recent interception against LSU last season. It is the second-longest streak of his career. He has thrown just five interceptions in 361 career pass attempts.

McElroy believes Alabama will unveil more of its playbook against Penn State.

"Up to right now, I think we've stayed relatively basic," he said. "I think we'll have a few extra wrinkles [Saturday]."

McElroy praised Penn State's secondary, which surrendered 189 yards and two touchdowns to Youngstown State quarterback Kurt Hess, who completed 21 of 25 attempts.

"They are really well coached and do a good job of tackling," McElroy said. "They are always known for being very athletic and having highly touted linebackers. They do a really good job in their coverages. They are a sound defense.

"They do such a good job of being in the right place. It is kind of fun to watch."


Ron Musselman: rmusselman@post-gazette.com .


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