Gators Pick Apart McGloin, Lions

Nittany Lion quarterback anxious to move on following his five-interception showing against Florida in the Outback Bowl.

TAMPA -- Matt McGloin was the first Penn State player to leave the field when Saturday's Outback Bowl ended, and one of the first to enter the interview room a little while later -- still unshowered, he admitted (and as the smudge of eyeblack under his left eye showed), but wearing a blue collared shirt and gray suit pants, and carrying his No. 11 jersey.

The Nittany Lions quarterback obviously wanted to leave this one behind, and fast.

That will not be easy. Not for him, and perhaps not for a coaching staff already facing a quarterback dilemma heading into next season. McGloin, with a chance to solidify his hold on the job, was intercepted five times in the 37-24 loss to Florida.

It was the most ever by a Penn State quarterback, and tied the record for this bowl, which is in its 25th year. And the thing is, it could have been even more; Florida defenders had their hands on at least four other passes.

One of the picks, in the third quarter, turned the tide in favor of the Gators, who reeled off the day's last 17 points. Another, in the final minute, was returned 80 yards for a touchdown by safety Ahmad Black, the game's MVP, allowing Florida (8-5) to salt away a victory in the final game of Urban Meyer's six-year tenure in Gainesville.

The Lions finished an unsteady 7-6. And if McGloin, the one-time walk-on, gave them a much-needed adrenaline injection when he became the starter at midseason, the question now is whether he is the long-term answer at the position -- especially with two viable alternatives on the roster in Rob Bolden, the starter the first half of this year, and Paul Jones.

“You can't let the last game determine how you feel about somebody as you go into the offseason,” quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said. “I think that's the thing you've got to be careful about.”

But McGloin, like a lot of other people, will have a hard time forgetting about it.

“You don't have a next game to look forward to,” he said. “This is the last game of the year; it's going to stick in your head for a while.”

But he also said he cannot afford to sulk too long. Saturday was going to be a tough night; he was sure of that. And he's going to be carrying this game around next week, when he returns to his home in Scranton for winter break.

“But once I step back on campus, it's the 2011 season,” he said. “I'm looking forward to it.”

Joe Paterno was quick to note how special-teams breakdowns also contributed greatly to the Lions' demise -- how the Gators turned a blocked punt into a touchdown in the second quarter and parlayed a 48-yard kickoff return into a field goal late in the third, starting the game-ending avalanche.

And while Jay Paterno said the coaches talked about bringing Bolden out of the bullpen, the head coach said he thought McGloin was “doing pretty well.”

“I wouldn't blame it on McGloin,” the elder Paterno told reporters after the game.

Then a print guy -- one for whom the coach has little affection -- asked Paterno how he could say McGloin played well when he was picked off five times.

“I didn't say that at all,” the 84-year-old coach said. “I said I wouldn't blame it on him. You ought to check your hearing.”

Let the record show that McGloin, who has always been a standup guy, did not run away from blame. As he entered the interview area he told a PSU official, “I don't want to be in here too long.” But he then sat on a folding chair for over 13 minutes -- an eternity, in interview-room time -- and fielded every question that came his way.

He was finally spirited away by a reporter from the Big Ten Network, who tossed him a couple softballs on the field. A few yards away another TV reporter was filing his report: “And Matt McGloin threw five interceptions …”

“Five?” McGloin had asked a print guy a little earlier. “Was it five?”

It was.

“It happens,” he said. “Obviously today wasn't my day. Every quarterback has their days, and today wasn't one of mine.”

He said he was “hurting pretty bad.” And when he was asked how many of the interceptions might have been his fault, he did not hesitate.

“Obviously I threw them,” he said, “so they're all my fault.”

Then again, he said later, “A couple of the interceptions are obviously my fault, but a couple of them, I couldn't believe the plays they made.”

That includes the game-turning pick by linebacker Brandon Hicks in the final minute of the third quarter, with the Lions holding a 24-20 lead and facing a third-and-one at their own 29. McGloin, 17-for-41 for 211 yards and a touchdown in the game, rolled right and tried to throw the ball over Hicks' head, to wide receiver Justin Brown.

But he could not, and Hicks' return to the Penn State 25 set up a one-yard TD run by Mike Gillislee with 13:02 left in the game, giving the Gators the lead for good at 27-24.

“He made a great play,” McGloin said of Hicks. “That's the main one that sticks out in my head, the type of play he made. Justin was open. Everyone was flowing to the right, I tried to throw it back to Justin, and I don't know how (Hicks) made the play. He turned, and extended his arms and caught it. I could not believe he made that play.”

The playcall also defied belief: The Lions wanted their struggling QB to throw on third-and-one, deep in their own territory?

“We were trying to set a tone, trying to be aggressive in our playcalling, and get after them,” Jay Paterno said. “We wanted to let our offense know we were going to let it all hang out. It just didn't work out for us.”

Florida added a field goal with 7:32 remaining, and after an exchange of punts the Lions took over at their own 21 with 3:04 to play.

“Any quarterback believes they're going to go down and win the game,” McGloin said.

He did move the Lions to the Florida 25. But on third-and-three Black knifed in front of tight end Kevin Haplea and intercepted his second pass of the day, then went the distance for the clincher with 55 seconds left.

McGloin said Black baited him into throwing to Haplea, who was running a crossing route.

Then, the QB added, “He made a great play on the ball. Just hats off to him. Congratulations on a nice play.”

All that's left is to pick up the pieces.

The Lions have been here before. Jay Paterno recalled how John Shaffer was intercepted three times by Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl after the 1985 season, then came back to lead Penn State to a national championship the following year (with a sizable assist from a great defense).

And McGloin has been here before, too. As a sophomore at West Scranton High School he was intercepted six times in a season-ending 35-0 loss to Abington Heights, with two of the picks taken back for touchdowns.

“It stayed with me for a long time,” McGloin said of that defeat, “as will this one.”

It's worth noting that McGloin led his high school team to district championships the next two years. Now he will try to rally again.

But the stage is infinitely bigger, the stakes infinitely higher.

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