Monday, November 19, 2012

You can gush over O'Brien and McGloin without falsely bashing the Paternos

The new offense has been very good for Penn State, but the belittling of the previous PSU coaching regime - specifically the offense and the Paternos -  is factually misguided.

Is there anything for Penn State fans not to love about Bill O'Brien?

Hardly. This guy has been awesome.

From the get-go - that dynamic, assured opening press conference - right up to Saturday, when his offense diced Indiana’s woeful defense in the 45-22 Lions win, O'Brien has been wonderful in seemingly every way.

So, give him a standing O ... Brien.

(Give him another if PSU beats Wisconsin on Saturday. And another if he could please suppress these will-he-leave-for-the-NFL? rumors with some more "Golden Handcuff" additions to his contract.)

And what about Matt McGloin? Hard to say enough good things about him, too.

The 5th-year senior seized the No. 1 QB job in the spring, and ever since has shown an increasing grasp of O'Brien's pass-centric, up-tempo offense, vastly improved sifting through his progressions and sharply cut down on mistakes.

Extremely rare is the former walk-on QB who plays so well at a major-conference school.

So, super-kudos to O'Brien and McGloin. 

But this bashing of the past (Joe and Jay Paterno) while exalting the present (McGloin and O'Brien) has to stop. Because it's incorrect, wrong and false.

The facts and stats simply say otherwise.

The latest offender is In the wake of PSU's 23-point win over the Hoosiers, in which the Lions established some new passing and receiving school records, ran a story about O'Brien, McGloin and WR Allen Robinson.

Nice. They sure deserve it. They had great days and are having great seasons. The story praises them nicely. Here's the link:

But there are several things in the piece that weren't nice, including these three, which actually range from Deceptive and/or Wrong to Pants-On-Fire! in our "PSU Football Fact" ratings:
  • WRONG/DECEPTIVE: " ... Jay Paterno, whose legacy of PSU quarterbacks seems to be that a majority regressed (See: Bolden, Robert and Morelli, Anthony). Jay Paterno knew McGloin for four seasons before he was dismissed from his coaching post - but never saw enough of the signal-caller to name him the indisputable starter."
  • DECEPTIVE/WRONG: "O'Brien (has updated) an inefficient offense that seemed about as cutting edge as a disco ball. Penn State's just always been an old, throwback, run-first team."
  • PANTS ON FIRE!: "And O'Brien's coached up McGloin, who spent more time fuming on the sideline last season than behind center. ... O'Brien's taken Allen Robinson, an offensive afterthought who finished with three catches last season, into the record books ... With the old staff those two could still be riding the bench right now.''

We'll work backwards on these, starting with the excerpt rated Pants On Fire!

The truth is, McGloin has spent much more time as the PSU QB on the field than "fuming on the sideline," ever since the middle of the 2010 season.

He started the final six games of 2010 and threw more than half of the team's total pass attempts that season, and in 2011 McGloin threw 61.4 percent of PSU's pass attempts. It would have been more had he not brawled with then-teammate Curtis Drake, sustained a concussion and missed the bowl game (where Bolden chucked it 27 times).

McGloin had the most pass attempts in 10 of PSU's 12 regular season games in 2011. So actually, McGloin spent much more time playing than not playing last season, and there's no reason to believe he wouldn't have been the No. 1 QB this season if the old coaches were still in place, based on:
  • The sheer amount McGloin had played in 2010 and '11
  • His status as a 5th-year senior
  • The plummeting play of Bolden
  • And the untested quantity that was Paul Jones
The truth is, McGloin actually had to start from scratch under O'Brien and win the job, whereas it would have been his job to lose under the old staff.

As for Robinson, of course he was an afterthought last season - he was a relatively unheralded 6-foot-3 true freshman receiver joining a receiving corps boasting tall, productive, veteran receivers Derek Moye and Justin Brown. There is no way Robinson would have been a starter and major contributor at PSU in 2011 under any coaching staff in such circumstances.

And as far as the notion that Robinson could still be riding the pine this season, that's absurd. Missing from the PSU squad this season are the Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 WRs from last season - Moye, Brown, Devon Smith, Shawney Kersey and Drake. No. 6 was Brandon Moseby-Felder (4 catches last season), No. 7 was Robinson (3 catches), and Robinson clearly is more talented than Moseby-Felder this season.

Robinson would be PSU's No. 1 WR in 2012 with any coaching staff, and to say otherwise is baloney. To say he could be riding the bench is ... Pants On Fire! 


Next up is the "inefficient," anti-cutting edge offense O'Brien has inherited and upgraded, which we rated Deceptive/Wrong: "O'Brien (has updated) an inefficient offense that seemed about as cutting edge as a disco ball. Penn State's just always been an old, throwback, run-first team."

First of all, what's the problem with being "an old, throwback, run-first team?" It has been working pretty well at Alabama.

Second, wasn't it just a 3-4 years ago Penn State was on national magazine covers with its Spread HD offense operated by QB Darryl Clark?

The gist: Many different styles can succeed. (And, wow does the media have a short memory sometimes.)

What works in college football is this: Clearly establishing an identity and a system, and doing it well, i.e. executing it. You tweak it to suit your personnel, but your core values don't change.

PSU under Joe Paterno was about run-pass balance, albeit frequently run-first; minimizing penalties and turnovers; always respecting field position; and relying on the defense. It evolved over time toward more passing, and of note is the Lions were the first team to win a national title with more passing than rushing yards - 30 years ago.

Under O'Brien the offense is about an up-tempo pace and is pass-centric - more pass than run - spreading the ball to multiple TEs, WRs and RBs with largely high-percentage/lower-risk passes, and taking more chances on fourth down.

Neither is wrong. Both can succeed. You just have to establish your philosophy, commit to it, execute and stay true.

For the most part, Penn State did just that under Paterno, to the tune of a record 409 wins, and a winning percentage his final seven seasons better than his career mark. 

O'Brien, with a different system and in the most extraordinary circumstances at post-Sandusky PSU, is getting it done as well. He and his offense have been very good, and the 7-4 record, if it becomes 8-4 (and especially if Notre Dame loses to USC), likely will earn O'Brien some deserved Coach of the Year honors.

However, O'Brien's offense has not been an efficiency update on the past. Not yet, at least.

Here are the facts. Below is Penn State's average yards per play the past eight seasons, which is arguably the best measure of offensive efficiency:
  • 2012 - 5.5
  • 2011 - 5.0
  • 2010 - 5.5
  • 2009 - 6.1
  • 2008 - 6.5
  • 2007 - 5.5
  • 2006 - 5.2
  • 2005 - 6.1

The data almost completely refute the efficiency upgrade theory for this season that claimed.

While 2012 is an upgrade over last season (5.0 to 5.5), it is a downgrade from the average yards per play of the previous seven seasons (5.7 t0 5.5).

Here’s what actually is happening now with the PSU offense: Under O'Brien, the Lions play more up-tempo - the so-called NASCAR offense - so they have more plays in each game, which also means more pass attempts and passing yards.

PSU is averaging more than 77 plays a game. The only other time in the previous seven years the Lions even averaged more than 70 was in 2007, with 72.5.

PSU also is passing more frequently and running less, so it has more pass attempts per se. The Lions pass-run ratio this season is 49.4 - 50.6, which is higher than any of the past seven years, nosing out 2010 (48.7 - 51.3).

(Keep in mind those ratios are slightly distorted, because in college football sacks count as rush attempts, when in reality they are pass attempts.)
More uptempo + higher passing ratio = PSU setting passing and receiving records.

And in a relatively depleted WR corps, Robinson has been so outstanding that McGloin throws his way an inordinate amount of the time (compared to the other WRs), so Robinson - who was brilliant Saturday - is setting receiving records.

Makes perfect sense, once everything is put in proper context.

But many, instead of acknowledging all of the reasons for what is happening this season, instead settle for Paterno bashing. (This is far from the only story that finds it irresistible to falsely degrade Paternos when praising O’Brien, just the latest. It's en vogue. Some writers seem to think it's a prerequisite for writing about O'Brien's success - and don't forget to bash a Paterno or two.)

Both Paterno's and O'Brien's offensive and coaching philosophies can be successful. But one will yield more passing yards, the other less.

More passing yards, of course, does not necessarily mean better. For example, Indiana threw for 454 yards Saturday.

Numbers need to be put in proper context.

In 2010, Penn State averaged the same 5.5 yards per play it is averaging this season, and a then-green McGloin - thrust into the starting position due to Bolden's injury at midseason - threw for about 221 yards a game. (1,548 in roughly seven games). That's pretty good and surprisingly high, under the circumstances.

In fact, most observers will be surprised to see how similar Penn State's overall passing numbers this season (through 11 games) are to 2010, a year in which a true freshman, Bolden, and newbie McGloin, then a redshirt sophomore walk-on, both played significantly - and a year in which no one was accusing PSU of having very good QB play. Or very good anything, as the Lions finished 7-6, their worst season since 2004.

The big difference between the 2010 and 2012 PSU passing totals is interceptions. In 2012, a much more seasoned and mature McGloin, playing in O'Brien's system and under his tutelage, has greatly cut down on that total, while still slightly increasing the completion percentage and touchdowns:

2012 comp-att-yards  int-TD
          253-419-3,078    5-23

2010 comp-att-yards  int-TD
          236-425-2,986   17-19

It's all about putting the numbers in context.


Now, about that first "Wrong/Deceptive" excerpt above, the one about former QB coach Jay Paterno, McGloin and recent PSU QB history: " ... Jay Paterno, whose legacy of PSU quarterbacks seems to be that a majority regressed (See: Bolden, Robert and Morelli, Anthony). Jay Paterno knew McGloin for four seasons before he was dismissed from his coaching post - but never saw enough of the signal-caller to name him the indisputable starter."

The fact is, McGloin very clearly was not overlooked and was not shortchanged by the previous coaching staff.

The truth is, it was pretty much the exact opposite: The Paternos always thought more highly of him than the media and the fan base.

No one thought McGloin was a viable candidate for the starting QB job in 2010 ... except Joe and Jay Paterno.

With a trio fo 4- or 5-star QB recruits competing for the job that season - Bolden, Jones and Kevin Newsome - no one thought McGloin belonged in the competition ... except Joe and Jay Paterno.

When true freshman Bolden won the job and performed adequately, all things considered, but was injured midway through the season, few thought McGloin would, or should, be the one to replace him. But Joe and Jay Paterno put him out there. McGloin rewarded them by playing well.

And when Bolden returned to health in time for the Outback Bowl game, who started the bowl game at QB, and went the distance despite playing a terribly that day?


And who absorbed a battering of criticism for not giving Bolden an opportunity in the Outback Bowl against Florida, and instead stubbornly sticking with McGloin?

The Paternos.

That was all in 2010, two years ago.

At the start of the 2011 season, virtually everyone - fans and media, for sure - associated with PSU football wanted and expected Bolden to be the QB. Many thought Bolden should be anointed the starter in the spring, so he wouldn’t transfer and because they thought he was the best choice, over McGloin and anyone else.

The Paternos instead kept McGloin in the mix, and rotated both QBs at the start of the season.

After a couple of games in 2011, with neither QB playing well, the fans and media (this blog very much included) were clamoring for the Paternos to pick, and stick with, one QB. And virtually everyone wanted that QB to be Bolden, this blog included, which doubted McGloin's ability to play well against top competition.

The Paternos were ridiculed for insisting that McGloin play, too, and the QB rotation continued.

After a few more games, Bolden's play badly deteriorated (very possibly in part due to mismanagement by the Paternos) and his confidence totally deserted him. The coaches finally settled on one QB: McGloin, the guy who they were the only ones to believe in as a starting QB candidate since the 2010 preseason.

It was the Paternos who believed in McGloin more than anyone else, which they demonstrated by playing him more than any PSU fan or media member thought they should. And McGloin was the indisputable starter for the final five regular season games of last season.

Don’t let history and the facts be rewritten.

Also, Bolden is arguably the only QB who certainly could be considered to have regressed under Jay Paterno. 

Morelli? He may not have progressed to everyone's hopes and wishes, but he certainly didn't regress, despite all of the aggravation he caused PSU fans.

After barely playing his first two seasons (that was a mistake by the Paternos - Morelli should have redshirted in 2004 or '05), Morelli played nearly every down his last two seasons, and his numbers improved across the board from his junior to senior year, with the exception of his interception rate, which went up slightly. He improved his completion percentage (53.9 to 58.2), passer rating (111.9 to 124.2), TDs (11 to 19), yards (2,424 to 2,651) and yards per attempt (6.3 to 6.6).

The story also conveniently neglects to mention the acclaimed progress of former PSU QBs Michael Robinson and Darryl Clark under JayPa's watch.

One former Lions QB who story might have mentioned but didn't was JayPa's first, Zack Mills. His play clearly improved and then clearly regressed during his career, from 2001-04. But many believe that was due to a shoulder injury he sustained in 2002 that lingered, as well as a big decline in the caliber of Mills' supporting playmakers in '03-'04, as much it was substandard coaching. Nonetheless, Mills holds PSU's career (7,212) and single game (399) passing yardage marks.

And by the way, reported back in January that Jay Paterno announced he was leaving Penn State, not vice versa, so he was not "dismissed from his coaching post" as this story said. But that's just semantics. JayPa wasn't coming back once O'Brien was hired, and O'Brien had the class to let JayPa announce it. (

So why all the misreporting on these matters?
  1. It's the cool and popular thing to do these days, Paterno-belittling. 
  2. The play-calling and passing attack were really bad in 2011 - for which JayPa and JoePa both share in the blame - so awful that apparently everyone has amnesia about anything previous to 2011.
The story also strongly implies McGloin thought little of Jay Paterno and his coaching ability, and never said anything very complimentary of him. However, minimum effort yielded this quote from McGloin about JayPa, from 2010: "Jay has a great mind for the game. He has a lot of confidence in the quarterbacks and he is always encouraging us, which is important to the development of a good quarterback.''

All that said, O'Brien has taken McGloin to the next level, no question, with a sound passing-centric system that suits him very well. O'Brien has tweaked and tailored the offense to minimize McGloin's weaknesses and play to his strengths. These two self-proclaimed fiery Irishmen have made for a very nice, albeit sadly all-to-brief, marriage.

So let's set the record straight:

McGloin deserves the accolades. O'Brien deserves the accolades. And the Paternos deserve much better.

Just sticking to the facts about all of this should correct the problem. You do not have to recklessly smear the past in order to praise the present.

O'Brien and McGloin have been fantastic this season.

The Paternos were pretty good, too.

For insight, analysis and opinions about Penn State football, check, or follow Pete Young on Twitter @AllPSUfootball.


  1. I like this blog but Jay Paterno, while seeminglhy a nice guy, was out of his depth as a QB coach at the BCS level. He did nothing that effectively advanced the raw ability of Anthony Morelli into developed skills. He simply was not a good QB coach and the major improvement in McGloin's game this year is a strong demonstration of what it means to "coach somebody up."

    Joe Paterno is one of the all-time greats but after 1994 or so, it was pretty much downhill. His offensive schemes were way to conservative, his coaching staff was old and unmotivated, and the strength-training program was antiquated.

    We can honor Joe Paterno and all that he and his family did for our school - and try to bring about justice for the horrible ending he was subjected to - without being blind to the reality that a change in the coaching staff was long overdue by the fall of 2011.

    One of the many tragedies of the end of Joe Paterno's life is that he just did not know when to step aside, which should have been after the Orange Bowl win over FSU at the very latest.

  2. Was Jay Paterno very good at developing QB talent? I really can't say one way or the other. But I think the facts and statistics cited in this story certainly contradict the notion that he was out of his depth, and that QBs regressed as much as progressed under him. The facts are clear otherwise. Matt McGloin is a far more experienced QB now than he was two years ago, so he should be better. O'Brien and his system certainly have brought out the best in McGloin. Morelli, IMO, had a golden arm but was not accurate and did not have the capacity to make smart decisions quickly on the field, with the bullets flying so to speak, which is essential to good QB play. Considering Morelli's raw tools (height, arm strength, big-time college experience) if he actually had the capacity to play the position well, he at least would have stuck around the end of an NFL roster for a few years. Darryl Clark and Michael Robinson I'm sure would disagree with harsh assessments of Jay Paterno's coaching ability. PSU got the best from them, and JayPa should get some credit for that. Regarding when JoePa should have retired, I was not in favor of him calling it quits until roughly after the 2009 season. From that point on, I thought it was time to plan for the succession. As the 2011 season moved along, I posted many times that this should be the end, 2011 should be JoePa's swan song, and PSU should be preparing to find his successor. As it turns out, that was the plan, Paterno was going to retire after 2011, they had negotiated his financial separation before the season. But then of course the Sandusky scandal broke and everything changed most dramatically.