UNIVERSITY PARK - Aaron Rodgers might want to think twice before coming after Matt McGloin for stealing his touchdown move.
The Penn State quarterback would probably give him quite a fight.
"I love coaching competitive people, and he is a competitive guy," Nittany Lion coach Bill O'Brien said of McGloin.
Photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin looks downfield while in the grasp of Deonte Gibson.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior from Scranton has shown that many times over his career, rising from walk-on status to becoming the undisputed starting quarterback and leader of the Lion offense while several much more highly touted players fell by the wayside.
Very few of his games at Penn State, however, exhibited McGloin's grit and just how far he's come than did Saturday's 39-28 win over 24th-ranked Northwestern before 95,769 at Beaver Stadium, with two long touchdown drives in the last 10 minutes engineering another comeback versus a Wildcat team he made his major debut against two years ago.
It wasn't McGloin's best day. His 35-for-51 passing for 282 yards was good - in fact, his total completions broke Wally Richardson's record of 33 against Wisconsin in 1995 - but he could have been intercepted a couple of times, and he tried a side-handed flip pass that fell well short of an open Michael Zordich in the second quarter on fourth-and-4, giving Northwestern great field position to drive 66 yards to take the halftime lead.
He nearly fumbled the game away at the Wildcat 5 late.
But that served as a microcosm of McGloin's day. He refused to be denied - whether it was fighting for 2 yards when he only needed 1 on a third down at his own 24 on the game-winning drive or scrambling and diving in for a 5-yard touchdown run on third down one play after the fumble to put Penn State ahead to stay.
"He's definitely the leader on offense, and, once we start playing, he's in control of everything," sophomore running back Zach Zwinak said of McGloin.
McGloin keyed the Lions in converting five of six fourth-down plays. He passed for three of those - including a 6-yard touchdown to Allen Robinson with 9:49 left to pull Penn State to within three points and a 13-yard connection with Brandon Moseby-Felder going without a huddle inside the Wildcat 20 on the lead-taking drive - and ran for another.
He kept several plays alive with his feet throughout the game, avoiding sacks or wiggling free.
"He's going to come in on Monday telling me he runs a 4.3 40. I'm going to tell him we're timing his 40 with a sundial," O'Brien joked.
O'Brien could afford to enjoy the light-hearted moment. When Penn State took the ball at his own 14 with 8:15 to play and Northwestern ahead, 28-25, McGloin was right in his element, and conveyed that confidence and enthusiasm to his teammates.
"He said 'Down four points with another drive. You've got to love it,' That tells you how he came into that drive, approaching it like we needed to score seven. We knew we had to. We wanted to put the game on ourselves, not kick and field goal, not leave it on the defense," Robinson said.
Robinson caught nine passes for 85 yards, including both of McGloin's touchdown throws. In three games against the Wildcats, McGloin now is 70 for 106 for 699 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions. He came on in relief of Rob Bolden in 2010 to bring the Lions back from 21 points down and give Joe Paterno his 400th career coaching win.
"We knew Matt had a couple of big games against Northwestern in the past, so we just wanted to help him pick up where he left off," Robinson said.
McGloin, of course, always has been known for his competitiveness. Sometimes, in the past - and even still, from time to time - that has gotten him into problems as he tried to throw a pass into a window that his arm strength just wouldn't let him, or he'd try to escape the sack of a 290-pound defensive lineman and wind up losing 15 yards instead of 5 from going down or throwing the ball away.
As the 2012 season has progressed, those instances seem fewer and farther between, though, as McGloin has matured under the eyes of O'Brien and Lion quarterback coach Charlie Fisher.
"Coach Fisher always says, 'You have to play as a fifth-year guy. Play like a guy with experience.' That's something I've always tried to keep my mind on," McGloin said. "I've played a lot of games here at Penn State, a lot of downs, a lot of snaps. It's just an experience thing. You know when to make plays, and you known when you've got to step up and make a play for your team."
A case in point was his winning touchdown scamper.
"It was third down on the 5- or 6-yard line. If you don't get it there, you just got to throw it away, it's basically an extra-point on fourth down," McGloin said. "They brought some pressure inside, so I just rolled out and saw an opening. Kyle [Carter] and Allen did a good job staying on their guys, blocking them, and I just got in.
"I kind of guaranteed on third down a score to the coaching staff, so I had no choice but to get it in there."
McGloin dove to the pylon to score and poked fun at himself for his lack of grace.
"I was unsure of whether to run it in or dive, but, unfortunately, my knee brace got caught in the ground, so I just looked like a complete fool," McGloin said. "I stuck the landing, though."
It was typical McGloin. It wasn't pretty or exactly textbook, but it served the purpose. Senior fullback Michael Zordich said it was evident fairly early that McGloin wasn't just another walk-on when he first met him.
"He's got a great attitude as a leader on the field and taking care of an offense. I noticed that right away," Zordich said. "He's been coached up. He spends a lot of time in the film room, and it's good to see him on the field making plays."
It being Penn State's homecoming, Zordich talked postgame about how important it was for this group of Lion players, particularly the seniors, to set the tone for what is to come in the next few years, when the team will have limited scholarships and will need to rely heavily on non-scholarship players. McGloin is a big part of the image the Lions project.
"He plays a huge role in this offense. He is one of the key parts. He earned a scholarship, now he's the guy at QB," Zordich said. "I think he embodies what this team's all about. It's just a group of guys that's going to grind to get where they need to get."
McGloin said this was probably the most excited he's been for a game. As the Lions polished off the win with a defensive stop and a late touchdown, McGloin showed his fire by doing Rodgers' touchdown dance, where he uses his hands to outline where a boxing or wrestling championship belt would be about his waist.
"I was thinking about doing it for a few days now if I got another rushing touchdown. I was kind of looking for where the refs were so I didn't get called for it," said McGloin, who now has 12 passing touchdowns and a team-high five rushing scores this year.
Of course, McGloin doesn't do much the typical way, so he even added something to the dance.
"I kind of do a leg kick after mine," McGloin said with a big smile.