STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The Big Ten's top passer may not have the strongest arm in the league or the quickest feet for a quarterback.
But Penn State's Matt McGloin is proof that a strong work ethic and an innate desire to succeed can help make up for any other shortcomings.
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Saturday's game at No. 18 Nebraska (7-2, 4-1) may feature two of the league's top quarterbacks, but McGloin isn't worried about any statistical competitions with Cornhuskers star Taylor Martinez.
"My job is to worry about what their defense is doing and what I'm doing," McGloin said. "Taking care of what I'm supposed to do."
He's done a pretty god job at it too, this year.
Entering the weekend, McGloin leads the Big Ten with 270.7 passing yards per game. He's completed 62 percent of his passes and is tied with Martinez with 18 passing touchdowns.
Even more impressive is that he's thrown just three interceptions, though he's gotten lucky on a few others of his 340 pass attempts.
But maybe that's one of the biggest differences with McGloin this year -- his ability to shake off mistakes.
This is quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher's first season at Penn State (6-3, 4-1), so he's not familiar with the ups and downs that McGloin, a fifth-year senior, had earlier in his career. But Fisher and head coach Bill O'Brien are constantly on McGloin to play with poise.
"Stay on a more even plane, a more even keel. You have to let plays go," Fisher said about the message to McGloin. "That's been a process for Matt learning ... You can't let bad plays affect the next play."
McGloin's drive can be traced back to his upbringing in blue-collar northeastern Pennsylvania. O'Brien calls the West Scranton High School graduate and coal region product "Scranton tough."
"Everyone knows about the coal region," said Fisher, himself a central Pennsylvania native. "The toughness that comes from there, the chip on your shoulder. The desire to succeed."
In three years as a prep starter, McGloin threw for nearly 5,500 yards and 58 touchdowns. His proud father, flower shop owner Paul McGloin, will gladly relay other football exploits by his son, too.
Like how McGloin started playing junior football at age 4 -- one year earlier than allowed.
"We lied on the application," the elder McGloin admits.
Or how the friendly rivalry with two older brothers, now ages 36 and 29, helped shaped McGloin's competitive edge.
Or the three straight "Pass, Punt and Kick" contests won starting at age 12.
One day, after an impressive performance in the high school playoffs his senior year, McGloin got a scholarship offer from an in-state FCS school. The head coach offered this son of Scranton a chance to start as a freshman.
McGloin had other plans. Penn State was the goal, even if it meant getting on the team as a walk-on.
"He sat at our dining room table and said, `Mom I have to go to Penn State,"' Paul McGloin said in phone interview. "If I go there and fail, I tried. But I have to do this ... I promise I'll earn a scholarship."
Sure enough, McGloin did end up getting a scholarship from the late coach Joe Paterno. By 2010, as a sophomore, McGloin became the starter at midseason after supplanting touted freshman Rob Bolden.
The first former walk-on to start at quarterback in Paterno's 46-year career, McGloin played a big role in a historic game that season, throwing four touchdown passes in helping Penn State overcome an early three-touchdown deficit to defeat Northwestern 35-21 for Paterno's then 400th career win. (The win was later vacated due to NCAA sanctions.)
But McGloin never had a secure grip on the starting job, splitting time with Bolden in 2010 and 2011. Bolden may have had the bigger upside, but McGloin always seemed to spark the team when he was on the field.
O'Brien, who took over as head coach in January, put an end to the quarterback carousel after spring practice -- McGloin was his starter. Bolden ended up transferring to LSU. By mid-September another touted quarterback prospect, sophomore Paul Jones, had also left the team.
There was no question that this was McGloin's job. And in a new offensive system under O'Brien, he's thriving.
It's a complicated scheme based on the high-powered attack O'Brien used to coordinate with the New England Patriots. O'Brien went from coaching star signalcaller Tom Brady to McGloin.
For O'Brien, in assessing quarterback talent, physical ability is equal to the mental or intangible qualities needed to lead an offense.
While it helps to have a rocket arm, throwing accuracy is important. Decision-making is crucial. Intelligence and how a quarterback communicates and processes information are big factors.
"In Matt we knew right away we had a smart guy, a guy that was going to work, we knew we had a competitive guy," O'Brien said. "You have to give Matt a lot of credit because to this point in the season ... people have critiqued him and this and that, but this guy has had a good year."
McGloin once had a penchant for being locked into throwing deep down the sideline, often into double coverage, a play that would induce groans of panic from the Beaver Stadium crowd.
Under O'Brien and Fisher, McGloin appears more comfortable in the pocket. He can sense when he's in trouble, and progresses through his options without panic.
Despite his Big Ten-leading passing yardage, McGloin's longest completion has been only for 48 yards. He's averaging 11.5 yards per completion, but spreading the ball around. Eight or nine Nittany Lions often have receptions each week.
The game plans are thick. Fisher said McGloin is good about taking notes. It helps if he's going to study up on the playbook before turning in for the evening.
That extra time seems to be paying off on the field.
"From Day 1, he's put the time in," Fisher said. "One of the things that allowed him to ascend in this offense is the ability to process information."
Of course that self-assuredness is still there. Senior linebacker Michael Mauti couldn't help but get a friendly dig in when asked recently about his freshman year roommate's confidence.
"Has this grown," Mauti asked rhetorically with a smile, motioning his hands away from each other as if he was holding on to a balloon filling with air.
"It's the same Matty, but it's under a different scheme," Mauti said. "With that scheme, it's been really fun to watch him play."