UNIVERSITY PARK - More important than anything any player did on the field Saturday was one declaration made by quarterback Matt McGloin after the Blue-White Game.
"The Penn State football program is in a really good place right now," McGloin said.
About 60,000 fans eager to see exactly where the program is under new coach Bill O'Brien got their first glimpse Saturday. They didn't see much of the creative, complex new offense - O'Brien said only 10 percent of it was on display - but at least the rain stayed away and the focus was entirely on football and nothing else.
Penn State running back Deron Thompson, left, takes a hit from teammate Tim Buckley at the Blue-White game Saturday in University Park. The Nittany Lions took the field for the first time under coach Bill O’Brien.
Sentinel photo by TIM?SHUMAKER
That wasn't the case the last time the Nittany Lions played at Beaver Stadium in November against Nebraska, but then, that seems like so long ago given all the changes that have taken place within the program and the university.
"It was a fun day for me to coach a spring game in Beaver Stadium," said O'Brien, who was met with skepticism when he was hired in early January but has won over seemingly all critics in just three short months as Joe Paterno's successor.
"We can relate to him," McGloin said of his new coach. "He's a young guy, he knows how to deal with us, he knows how to communicate with us well."
Saturday's 77-65 score sounds more like a basketball game than football, but the unusual points system aside, several things were evident:
The defense is ahead of the offense, which shouldn't be unexpected given that it's an entirely new and complex offensive system that takes much longer than one spring to learn.
McGloin (6-of-13, 105 yards, one TD, one interception) remains well ahead in the quarterback competition, even if he's still not an ideal starting candidate because of his inconsistency.
Rob Bolden (7-of-14, 78 yards, three interceptions) continues to struggle throwing the ball and with his pocket awareness, leading some to wonder if Saturday was the last time he'll be seen in a Penn State uniform.
Paul Jones (6-of-15, 113 yards, one TD, one interception) has a cannon for an arm - he threw two passes more than 50 yards with ease - but he has major issues with accuracy (both long attempts were overthrown).
It's clear the tight ends will be used more in the passing game, as they pulled in three catches Saturday and should have had a fourth for a TD if not for an overthrow.
The front seven on defense is the strength of the team, no surprise given the long-term success of returning assistants Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden.
Perhaps the biggest football change of all probably wasn't evident Saturday, but it definitely will be this fall.
"The quarterback is in total control," McGloin said of the new offense.
That means more audibles, or more precisely, simply audibles at all.
"Last year, it was kind of, this is the play, you're going to run this play," McGloin said. "It's totally different right now. We might have two or three plays called before we break the huddle, so it's our job to get us into the right play and know what the defense is doing and make sure everybody's in the right spots."
Audibles have been very rare in PSU's offense in recent years, perhaps because the coaches were so unsure of the quarterbacks' abilities that they chose not to allow them.
McGloin estimated that there were probably less than five audibles called all last season.
"We might audible five times in one series this year," he said.
It's clear that, in this offense, the coaches place great trust in the quarterback's ability to recognize things quickly at the line of scrimmage, read the defensive formation and call the correct play.
"The quarterback's the field general out there in this offense, and we run the show," McGloin said.
That can be a good thing with an intelligent, decisive quarterback. Or a bad thing if a team doesn't have one of those.
"He's got to be able to process information in a hurry," quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher said of the signal caller in this offense. "He's got to be able to see exactly what's going on and make decisions for us and get us to the best play possible. There's no doubt that a big part of what we want to do is get to the best play possible to give us the best chance for success."
The trust issue is vital when a quarterback has the freedom to audible so much.
"It's 100 percent," Fisher said. "There is no gray area there. You've got to be on the same page. So we spend a lot of time in meetings making sure we're on the same page because you don't want miscommunication."
Aside from calling the right plays, O'Brien said pocket awareness will be a major key for his quarterback. The coach worked with the best in the game in Tom Brady in New England, and teaching that to college kids will be a major point of emphasis.
"Having an understanding that the centers and guards set the pocket and that the tackles set the width of the pocket is very, very important for the quarterback to understand, and young quarterbacks don't always get that," O'Brien said. "And so we talk to them about hitting their back foot and climbing the pocket to respect the integrity of the pocket. That's a work in progress."
The entire offense will continue to be just that throughout the spring and summer as the players become more proficient with the terminology and overall scope of it.
"It's an exciting offense, and it's going to take the whole summer to learn it again, and camp," McGloin said. "But once we get it down, it's going to be very fun to watch us play."