Thanks to Rob Bolden (yes, he's earned the right to be called by his nickname), the usually mundane and predictable opening game for Penn State became an event in Happy Valley.
On a day that felt more like Oct. 4 than Sept. 4 because of 64-degree temperatures and gusty northwest winds, Bolden, the true freshman from Orchard Lake, Mich., completed 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Nittany Lions to a 44-14 victory over Youngstown State.
The 6-foot-3 Bolden stood tall in the pocket and showed a lot of poise in the face of continuous blitzes by the Penguins. He wasn't sacked once. While his longest completion was just 27 yards, he hit on five passes of 20 or more. And for an 18-year-old, he showed a complete lack of emotion, calmly walking or trotting to the sidelines after a touchdown.
The thought, at least here, was the competition for the starting quarterback job, the talk of pre-season camp, was resuming with Saturday's game. But Bolden was effective. He faltered only once, throwing an interception early in the second quarter. The coaches probably will discover some technical miscues after they examine game tapes. But the feeling for now is that Bolden will be the starter when the Nittany Lions go into Tuscaloosa for next Saturday's game against top-ranked Alabama.
Joe Paterno, who made the decision Wednesday to start Bolden, was predictably annoyed when asked if he could review the process that led to his quarterback choice, or if he could put his finger on why he went with Bolden.
"All those quarterbacks are good prospects," he said. "I had to make a decision on one. He's got a good arm, he has some poise, he did some things a little better than the other guys on more occasions. There were days where I came off the field not knowing who I wanted to play. I've been around long enough and I've been around a few kids in 60 years, and he just seemed to be the right guy at the right time. But we'll see. It's still a long year."
Paterno also sounded as if he's going to keep his quarterbacks on their toes, saying he was going to play it "week by week, practice by practice, and hopefully come up with the best combination for various situations and we'll take it from there. Now whether that means we will have one quarterback all year or three alternating, I realy don't know right now. We've got a tough football game coming up and we've got to have a great week or practice."
For one day, anyway, Bolden was the man at Beaver Stadium. But there are bound to be a few stumbles, if not more, next week against Alabama's complicated defensive scheme, and the fact that the Crimson Tide will be home in a noisy stadium where hearing will be a challenge, especially since Bolden tends to speak softly.
Based on his performance, however, even against a lower caliber team, Bolden has made next week's game a lot more interesting all of a sudden.
Talk to you later in the week.