The Bolden Bowl
Tomorrow’s TicketCity Bowl will feature No. 20 Houston (12-1, 8-0) vs. No. 24 Penn State (9-3, 6-2) with sophomore Rob Bolden starting at quarterback for the Nittany Lions. As you probably know, a concussion stemming from a locker room fight with Curtis Drake will keep Matt McGloin sidelined. Neither the teams participating, nor the aforementioned player, were supposed to be in Dallas for this game.
The Cougars, with an 11-0 record, were ranked seventh in the nation and bound for a BCS game before an ugly home loss to Southern Mississippi in the C-USA Conference Championship Game. Penn State was once ranked twelfth in the nation with an 8-1 record and a two game lead in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Despite losing two of their final three games, the Nittany Lions, in a normal year, would have landed in Florida, for the Outback or Gator Bowl, or Arizona for the Insight Bowl. This, however, was no normal year.
The third element is by far the most intriguing. Originally Bolden was not even expected to be at Penn State for the 2011 spring semester, let alone the fall football season. Even after electing not to transfer, Bolden would once again lose his starting job to Matt McGloin. The last game he started was against Purdue on October 15th, and the last time he received any meaningful playing time was against Illinois on October 29th. On that cold afternoon, his collegiate career may have hit a low point: 0 for 4 passing, sacked once, a lost fumble, and booed off the field at Beaver Stadium.
Bolden’s Penn State career was not expected to be like this. Fans had high hopes and expectations from the four-star dual-threat quarterback from Detroit who became the first true freshman to ever start a season opener under Joe Paterno. Despite some uneven play that led to a 3-3 start and two Big Ten losses in 2010, the future still looked bright for Bolden. He was having a very strong game against Minnesota before suffering a concussion that forced him out of action. He lost his job more due to injury than ineffective play and never fully won it back.
If I were to ask 100 random fans whether or not they were excited about Bolden last fall, ninety would respond with some variation of yes, and the other ten would be lying, not wanting to admit they may have made a mistake. All-Big Ten quarterback, Heisman trophy, something special, that is what people had in mind for Bolden, not six career touchdowns to eleven career interceptions with a fifty two percent completion percentage.
Monday, like the previous twelve games, is just another sixty minutes of football. However, the game could mean a lot more for Bolden. He elected to return after last season because he was promised that there would be an open competition for the starting quarterback job. Part of the reason that occurred was due to McGloin’s five interception performance in last year’s Outback Bowl. Had McGloin played well last New Year’s Day and finished off a fourth quarter drive with a go-ahead touchdown, it is likely that he would have entered last spring as the clear-cut starter.
A similar situation could present itself now. A strong game from Bolden could raise his stock and lead to another quarterback competition; however, a poor showing will only give the critics reasons to be more vocal. Bolden said a few days ago that he intends to remain with the program, but some people believe that is still in question.
Penn State’s game plan should revolve around a heavy dose of Silas Redd and Stephfon Green in an effort to keep Case Keenum and the high powered Houston offense off the field. Keenum holds NCAA records for passing yards, touchdowns, and completions, but, from Penn State’s perspective, the spotlight will shine brightly on the quarterback with the number 1 on his jersey.
Many players believe they deserved better than the TicketCity Bowl after having been passed over for better bowl games by the likes of Ohio State and Iowa, who Penn State both defeated. For Bolden, like many others on the roster, the game represents an opportunity. While few and far between, there are reasons to be optimistic about Bolden’s play, such as the opening possession against Alabama, the game-winning drive against Temple, and a first quarter drive against Purdue. Houston’s less-than-stellar defense. which has surrendered fifteen touchdown passes on the season and twenty five points per game. is another reason.
Since early last spring, I sat on the Bolden bandwagon as a strong supporter. As the season wore on, it became a lot tougher to defend him and justify that he deserved playing time. Maybe he’s just not that good, but maybe (or hopefully), his time just has not come yet.
After losing his grip on the starting quarterback job due to a concussion, Bolden has it back for a game as a result of McGloin’s concussion, and should not have to look over his shoulder with backup Shane McGregor never having taken a meaningful collegiate snap.
Too quiet. No confidence. Poor mechanics. Lacks leadership. All of that has been said about the sophomore quarterback, and much of it can be, at least temporarily, put to rest with a strong showing in Dallas.
Your move, Bolden.