“It’s an open competition. There’s no starter, and there might not be a starter named until the night before the Ohio game.”
Those words were uttered by Bill O’Brien during his March 26th press conference which kicked off spring practice. One month later, that quote from the Nittany Lions head coach still holds; however, if the fan base had input in this decision, Paul Jones would have already been named the starter.
One did not even have to look at the field to know when the redshirt sophomore first entered Saturday’s Blue-White game. The 60,000 in attendance told the story in the form of a loud ovation for someone who had been with the program for two years but had never taken a meaningful snap before, someone who’s Penn State future as recent as two months ago was in serious doubt.
A few days removed from Saturday’s scrimmage, it now seems like a good time to discuss one of the main observations that came out of it. Penn State fans’ hearts are a flutter at the thought of Paul Jones leading this offense in the fall. The question now is why?
“I don’t think we love Paul Jones because of Paul Jones. I think we love him because he’s not Bolden or McGloin,” said Penn State fan Zach Morrison.
And therein lies the million dollar question: Is Paul Jones good or has he simply not yet made a mistake because he has not played?
Other fans seem to have similar views to Morrison. “Jones is a fresh face. McGloin and Bolden showed Saturday that they make the same mistakes even with a new offense. Jones showed charisma,” said Dan Puff.
After two seasons that saw Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden combine for nearly as many interceptions (28) as touchdown passes (29) while only completing fifty three percent of their passes, fans have decided that they want something different. In many ways, Bolden was in the summer and early fall of 2010 what Jones is now. The Nittany Lion faithful was intrigued and begging for a reason to love him. Things have ultimately gone sour there.
To call McGloin “bad” at this point might not be totally fair. He moves the offense and wins some games. He cut down on his interceptions last year, and you essentially know what you are going to get from McGloin, but fans have decided that what McGloin typically gives them does not meet their expectations. They have earned the right to think that. If Penn State is going to return to prominence, let alone match last year’s win total, they need better quarterback play.
“We like him [Jones] because he’s not the other two and because he has a howitzer. When it comes to QBs, it’s always about what could be. Your current girlfriend might be pretty good, but a cute smile and a tight sweater will always make you think ‘what if’,” said J.P. Greenland.
That “howitzer” was shown off on Saturday with a forty two yard strike to Shawney Kersey after avoiding pressure in the pocket. This play stood out in an otherwise mediocre 6-15 113 yards, 1 TD 1 INT showing. The completion percentage was below average. Over a third of the passing yards came on one play, and the touchdown pass came late in the game. He missed several somewhat open receivers on throws. The argument can be made that he played worse than his statistics indicate, and one pass made his stats look respectable. Right now, fans would prefer to make the argument that he played better than the numbers indicate, just missing on several throws and believing the mistakes are fixable.
It’s easy to see why Jones is likable. The look on his face post-game says it all. Humbled by two years of sitting on the bench and struggling with academics, Jones is happy for a chance, but make no mistake about it, he wants this job badly as he talks about crying before and after games over the past two years because he “wanted to play so bad.”
As recent as late December, it was no guarantee that Jones would even be on the field last Saturday. Ruled academically ineligible for the bowl game against Houston after being ineligible during the fall semester as well, Jones’ future was in serious doubt. A good student in high school who struggled with the transition to college academics, Jones could have decided Penn State wasn’t for him anymore and taken off to a junior college. He decided to stick it out, was declared eligible for spring practice, and all indications point toward him being eligible for the fall. In what would turn out to be his final weekly press conference, on October 25th, Joe Paterno was asked about Jones and said: “Paul’s not a dumb kid. He just needs better work habits.” Jones appears to be proving his former coach right.
“I think there is a feeling that he can be pretty good; he was a pretty highly touted recruit out of high school,” said Penn State student Chad Markulics. A pro style five star recruit to be exact with good size and a stronger arm that at times seemed to resemble an urban legend. He reminds me of a young Donovan McNabb. He’s Cam Newton 2.o, just watch.
“I believe that Paul Jones has a lot of potential. He can’t be worse than Bolden. The Blue-White game showed he has a very strong arm but needs to work on accuracy,” said Penn State student Derek Moreno.
The fact is that no one truly knows whether or not Jones can play, and the earliest that the question could really begin to be answered is at least 128 days away. What is known right now is that Jones has never gotten in a fight with one of his teammates that left him concussed, never failed to recognize a blitz that led to a sack and fumble, or thrown an interception in a meaningful game. He represents hope that things could be different as Christian Hackenberg sits in a classroom in Virginia until next summer After the last two years of poor quarterback play, that right now is good enough for fans. Good enough to receive a loud ovation just for stepping on the field.
An ovation that many hope to repeat — even louder — on September 1st.