Tuesday, head coach Joe Paterno somewhat hesitantly named former walk-on Matt McGloin, a sophomore, the team's starter for the OSU game but said freshman Rob Bolden also could see action. OSU head coach Jim Tressel said McGloin and Bolden are similar quarterbacks, and senior defensive lineman Dexter Larimore said they will not change their plans based on which player is under center.
"We're going to try to get him thinking more than he'd probably like," Larimore said. "We're going to try to take advantage of having a younger guy but honestly you look between the two guys and on the film they look very similar. They do about the same things."
Getting here has been a difficult process for McGloin. An unranked prospect in the Scout.com database from West Scranton, Pa., he did not land any scholarship offers despite receiving interest from Illinois, Iowa, Boston College and a number of others. After weighing his options, he decided to pursue the dream of playing for the Nittany Lions.
"I had a couple offers (from Division I-AA schools), but I figured I wanted to play on a big stage," he said. "I talked it over with my high school coach and my family and figured I'd give it a shot. Penn State wanted me to be a preferred walk-on. I came here and just took a shot at it."
It is a story McGloin said he is growing tired of reliving.
"Any more, it's not really too fun to tell," he said. "Everybody knows my story, so it's kind of getting annoying. I guess people see it as a good story."
He began the season listed on the depth chart as one of three potential starters along with Bolden and former OSU target Kevin Newsome. Bolden was a four-star prospect for the class of 2010 while Newsome was a four-star prospect in the class of 2009. Listed behind that trio was five-star freshman Paul Jones.
Bolden won the job and started the first seven games as the Nittany Lions went 4-3. He was knocked out of the seventh game in the second quarter, allowing McGloin to close out the 33-21 victory against Minnesota. The former walk-on earned his first career start the following week and threw for 250 yards in a 41-31 win victory against Michigan.
With Paterno chasing career win No. 400, Bolden earned the start last weekend against Northwestern and completed 3 of 4 passes for 43 yards before being lifted with his squad trailing 21-0. Then it was McGloin's time to shine, as he directed five consecutive touchdown drives to pull off the 35-21 victory.
"He's one of those guys who has really been pushing the ball down the field for them," Larimore said. "He's been that spark they've been looking for."
McGloin said he feels he is continuing to prove himself in the eyes of his teammates.
"I had to prove that I could perform on the big stage when called upon," he said. "It's something that I'm still working on, becoming more of a leader. As a quarterback you have to show these guys, ‘Hey, this is my huddle, this is my offense. It's going to be this way.' "
The Nittany Lions enter Ohio Stadium riding a three-game winning streak coinciding with McGloin's increased role. That, more than the fact that McGloin is a former walk-on, has caught the eye of senior OSU defensive lineman Cameron Heyward.
"He's obviously playing with a lot of confidence right now and those are the most dangerous ones," he said.
This is not the first time in recent memory that the Buckeyes have faced a relatively inexperienced quarterback in a key November contest. OSU clinched a Big Ten title on its home turf last season with an overtime victory against Iowa, which was led by freshman quarterback James Vandenberg.
In relief of an injured Ricky Stanzi, Vandenberg nearly engineered the upset by completing 20 of 33 passes for 233 yards. He threw two touchdowns but was also intercepted three times.
Larimore said the Buckeyes will not alter their approach based on McGloin's pedigree.
"That's what we go into every game thinking: try to get after the guy," he said. "We try to get in his head and try to make him come out of the game. That's what our ultimate goal is. If we can really affect the quarterback, that's how we can affect the game."
Recent history has not been kind to PSU quarterbacks playing in Ohio Stadium. The Nittany Lions have not completed a touchdown pass there in any of the eight games since they joined the Big Ten, and their last one came in a 2003 home loss to the Buckeyes.
McGloin said the Nittany Lions have the talent to move the ball this weekend.
"We're definitely going to be able to move the ball," he said. "We've been so successful in the red zone these past few weeks so if we get down there, we're just going to have to keep that up. We're going to be able to move the ball, especially with the wideouts that we have. I don't think anybody else in the Big Ten has the playmakers that we have out there.
"It's not that we're not going to be able to move the ball. We definitely are."