Houston's Case against PSU is strong at QB

123011-bradley-mcgloin-400
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin has been out of practice with a concussion. (Brandon Wade/AP)

MATT McGLOIN, wearing sunglasses, sweatpants and a Penn State hoodie, looked like the coolest fraternity-league quarterback on campus, getting ready for the big flag-football showdown with the house next door.

Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, McGloin is the starting quarterback for the nation's 24th-ranked football team, is coming off a concussion, and each day that passes without his receiving medical clearance to play in Monday's TicketCity Bowl in Dallas raises the likelihood that interim coach Tom Bradley will have to line up against No. 20 Houston with uncertainty and a severe depth problem at the game's most critical position.

Making the situation even more perilous is the fact that Houston's quarterback is sixth-year senior Case Keenum, who holds virtually every NCAA career passing record, with statistics so incomprehensibly inflated he must seem like an F-16 fighter jet when measured against the Wright brothers equivalents that Penn State has behind McGloin.

Minus McGloin, Penn State's top four quarterbacks - likely starter Rob Bolden, walk-ons Shane McGregor and Garrett Venuto, plus Wildcat formation change-of-pace guy Bill Belton - have combined for career totals of 160 completions in 307 attempts for 1,937 yards, six touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

What little flexibility Bradley had was compromised when scout-team QB Paul Jones did not make the trip after failing to make grades, and wide receiver Curtis Drake, who of late had been taking some snaps out of the Wildcat formation, asked out for personal reasons.

Keenum, on the other hand, is the Football Bowl Subdivision career leader for passing yardage (18,685), total offense (19,572), completions (1,501), touchdown passes (152), total touchdowns (175), 300-yard games (38) and 5,000-yard seasons (three). In a 73-34 blowout of crosstown rival Rice, Keenum went slightly crazy, throwing for 534 yards and nine TDs.

Keeping pace with the explosive Cougars in a shootout would have been difficult in any case. But trying to do so without McGloin will almost require Penn State to take the game to the trenches, to control the clock, keep Keenum off the field and, hopefully, prevail in a low-scoring affair.

"The longer you go, the odds of [McGloin] playing aren't very good," Bradley admitted after yesterday's practice session at Dallas' Bishop Lynch High School.

Make no mistake, McGloin, who started the final five games after having split time with Bolden, is no mad bomber in the Keenum mold. But his numbers this season (125-for-231, a .541 completion percentage, for 1,571 yards and eight touchdowns with five interceptions) are significantly better than those posted by Bolden (46-for-109, .422, for 548 yards, one TD and four picks).

But McGloin suffered a seizure and a concussion after falling to the ground and hitting his head during a locker-room scrap with Drake on Dec. 17. Two days later, at Penn State's bowl media day in State College, he admitted to having problems with his vision and balance.

Whether McGloin plays is a decision that lies in the hands of team physician Wayne Sebastianelli, who is not going to give his blessing until the redshirt junior from Scranton establishes that he's out of the danger zone.

So McGloin is in Dallas, serving as a de facto cheerleader for the team and the quarterbacks who might have to take up the slack his absence would create.

"He's helping where he can," Bradley said of McGloin. "That's the way it is with this team with anybody that's been hurt. He's talking to the quarterbacks and doing all the things he should be doing as a leader."

Bolden, a 6-3, 216-pound sophomore, is a four-star recruit from Michigan who in 2010 became the first true freshman in 100 years to start at quarterback for the Lions. But he was displaced by McGloin later that season, as was the case again this year. He didn't play at all in three of the final five games, and was 2-for-11 for 22 yards in mopup duty against Illinois and Wisconsin.

"Is he going to be a little rusty? Probably," center Matt Stankiewitch said of Bolden. "But, hopefully, we can get a lot of that rust out in practice.

"Bolden's done pretty well. He keeps getting more comfortable every day, and he's working hard. It's just a matter of his getting the reps again."

Fullback Michael Zordich admitted that the offensive makeup of the team has been altered somewhat with Bolden suddenly getting intensive work with the first unit.

"We're just kind of trying to get used to each other again, to get used to playing with each other again," Zordich said. "We're doing some things different. There's a lot of small changes."

3 THINGS TO LOOK FOR

* Houston will load the box with eight or nine defenders to try to shut down the Penn State ground game, virtually daring Bolden to throw if he does get the start.

* Penn State defensive-line coach Larry Johnson Sr. will rotate as many fresh bodies in and out as he can to maintain constant pressure on Keenum, whose quick release and pocket presence make him difficult to sack (just 15 this season) in any case. The Cougars' hurry-up style also makes it difficult on opposing defenses to substitute as freely as they might prefer.

* Just a guess, but don't be surprised if freshman wide receiver Bill Belton gets more than a few snaps out of the Wildcat formation for the Lions.

AGENDA

What: TicketCity Bowl

Who: No. 24 Penn State vs. No. 20 Houston

When: Monday, noon

Where: Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas

Records: Penn State 9-3, Houston 12-1

TV: ESPNU

Radio: WNTP (990-AM); WPNV (1440-AM)

Series: Penn State has won the only two meetings: 31-14 in Beaver Stadium in 1977 and 24-7 in Houston in 1964.

Coaches: Tom Bradley 1-2, first year; Tony Levine 0-0, first year

About Penn State: The Lions have two Texans on their travel roster: redshirt sophomore punter/placekicker Anthony Fera and senior cornerback D'Anton Lynn. Fera, who was born in Philadelphia, played his high school ball at St. Pius X Houston. Lynn, whose father, Anthony Lynn, is the running-backs coach for the New York Jets, hails from Celina . . . Junior fullback Michael Zordich admits to some anxiety concerning the hiring of Penn State's new coach, as well as for the job security of his father, Mike Zordich Sr., a former PSU All-America strong safety (1985) who is a member of Andy Reid's Eagles staff. "We talk about it," Zordich says of the conversations he has with his dad about their respective situations. "You never know what's going to happen, and you usually have no control over what does happen" . . . The Lions are 4-0-1 in bowl games played in Texas.

About Houston: The Cougars' top three receivers - Tyron Carrier, Patrick Edwards and Justin Johnson - have combined for 241 catches, 3,519 yards and 34 touchdowns, and that's just this season. Edwards had the nation's top receiving day, with 318 yards and five touchdowns on just seven receptions in a 73-34 blowout of Rice on Oct. 27. Carrier is also an explosive return man, and his seven kickoff returns for scores tied the NCAA record set by former Clemson star C.J. Spiller . . . Defensive players don't have as high a profile in comparison to Houston's offensive standouts, but linebacker Sammy Brown is the national leader in tackles for loss with 28 . . . This will be Tony Levine's first game as the head coach. He was the assistant head coach and special-teams coordinator under Kevin Sumlin, who was hired by Texas A&M on Dec. 10 . . . Houston is 8-11-1 in bowl games, but just 1-9 in its last 10 appearances.

PREDICTION: HOUSTON 28, PENN STATE 20