Penn State turns to its Bench
Penn State quarterback Steven Bench (12) is tackled by Virginia linebacker LaRoy Reynolds (9) in the first half Saturday in Charlottesville, Va.
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Saturday was a crazy day.
Penn State did the near-impossible, losing a game against Virginia in which it had a plus-four turnover margin. The Nittany Lions kicker, Sam Ficken, missed four field goals and had an extra point blocked. A massive storm front that included nearby tornado warnings threatened the game. Clock mismanagement, either from coach Bill O'Brien, the actual clock operator, or perhaps both, wasted precious seconds for Penn State at the end of each half.
One more thing: A freshman, Steven Bench, played quarterback for Penn State. Only two quarterbacks, Anthony Morelli and Rob Bolden, had done that in the past decade.
Bench entered the game about midway through the second quarter when starter Matt McGloin sat out part of a series after a tough hit. Bench was sacked on a third down.
Later in the same quarter, McGloin left the game with an injured right elbow. An x-ray revealed no major damage, but Bench went in for more than just a sack this time.
He looked poised and calm in the huddle, said many Penn State players. Just the same, center Matt Stankiewitch saw the need to fire him up.
"He's young," Stankiewitch said. "So I said, 'don't worry, daddy is still out there.' "
Stankiewitch was referring to himself. He wanted to make sure Bench knew he would have his back.
It wasn't an easy situation for any freshman. The clock was running out and Penn State was trying to score before the end of the half. For the first five plays, Bench handed the ball off. On third-and-3, he completed his first pass attempt to wide receiver Allen Robinson for a first down.
After two incompletions, he scrambled for 15 yards on third-and-10, but the drive ended with Penn State failing to set up a field goal as the half ended.
"He's really never run a two-minute drive other than a couple in practice," O'Brien said.
"I thought overall he did a pretty good job."
The choice to play Bench confirmed what had been suspected in recent weeks. Since O'Brien began talking favorably about Bench in the third week of practice and made him a co-second-stringer, it seemed the odds of Paul Jones playing quarterback were dwindling.
After the game, O'Brien said Jones still was practicing at quarterback but also had switched to tight end.
Bench, a three-star recruit from Georgia, clearly has emerged as McGloin's backup.
How much he will play the rest of the season is unclear.
McGloin said he was healthy, but added that his elbow was a little sore.
He didn't get to see his understudy, Bench, play because he was in the locker room, but heard positive reviews.
"Steven's a quick learner," he said.
First Published September 10, 2012 12:00 am