Rudel: O’Brien didn’t believe in Bench
Wednesday’s news that sophomore quarterback Steven Bench is transferring out of Penn State should not be overly surprising as staying into fall camp probably would have only delayed the inevitable.
The only time over the past year that Bench was handed the keys to Bill O’Brien’s offense was when O’Brien had no other chauffeur.
That came in the second game of the 2012 season at Virginia after Matt McGloin suffered a hand injury that sidelined him in the second quarter.
Then a freshman backup, Bench came in cold, on the road, and at least managed to function.
He completed 2-of-7 passes for 12 yards and rushed three times for 18. One of his incompletions was lofted from near midfield into the end zone, but Allen Robinson, despite the ball touching his hands, couldn’t come up with it.
I’ve sometimes wondered how much, or if at all, Bench’s role would have changed had Robinson hung on. Penn State would have led 14-3 instead of 7-3 and taken momentum into the second half of a game they ended up losing 17-16.
McGloin returned for the third quarter, and Bench didn’t take another meaningful snap all season.
Despite returning only Bench for this year, O’Brien repeatedly passed on getting the Georgia product some seasoning in several routs. He kept saying he’s a one-quarterback man and, “I thought it was Matt’s game.”
Even with fourth-quarter leads of 34-7 vs. Navy, 35-7 at Illinois, 38-7 at Iowa and 34-3 at Purdue, Bench watched from the bench as McGloin kept trotting out with the games long ago decided.
That was telling then and more telling now.
It showed O’Brien – particularly in facing scholarship limitations that will reduce the squad to 65 grants by August of 2014 – didn’t want to invest time in a player he wasn’t sure about.
Especially at a position that is of utmost importance to him and to the team and especially knowing he has one of the top freshmen in the country, Christian Hackenberg, set to enroll in two months and now poised to compete with Tyler Ferguson for the starting job.
It may also help explain why O’Brien didn’t lead on Bench by making him answer media questions, either before or after the Blue-White Game on Saturday. And just after scratching both Bench and Ferguson off the requested player list, O’Brien made it clear he expected Hackenberg to be in the mix.
O’Brien also said he planned to meet with every member of the team and be candid about where they stood. The session, or sessions, with Bench took place quickly, and the status was resolved in less than a week and before the coaches’ caravan bus departed.
Credit O’Brien for his refreshing honesty and not wanting to keep Bench around knowing he may never be more than a career backup, and with three years of eligibility left and four years to complete them, it makes perfect sense for Bench to find a better opportunity, perhaps closer to home.
Good luck to him and let the 2013 quarterback competition – Ferguson vs. Hackenberg – begin.