It is Matt McGloin's team now, without question.
To be honest with you, Penn State's quarterback told reporters on a conference call Wednesday, it's always felt as if it were my team.
He couched that by saying every quarterback feels that way about his team; that surely Rob Bolden, a starter the first seven weeks of this season, still feels that way. And coach Joe Paterno had said a day earlier that Bolden would still see action, even though he is struggling, even though he was booed while going 0-for-4 and fumbling twice (losing one) in last week's 10-7 victory over Illinois, even though such prominent former players as Michael Robinson and A.Q. Shipley tweeted some less-than-complimentary things about him.
But McGloin figures to be in charge most of the time during the monstrous stretch run, which after this Saturday's bye commences with a Nov. 12 home game against Nebraska. He will be the first one off the bus, a long-standing Nittany Lions tradition. While he said earlier this year that he didn't care whether he disembarked first or last, he admitted Wednesday that leading the team into Beaver Stadium, past all the adoring fans, is a feeling words can't describe.
McGloin also figures to be the one on the field at the end for the 8-1 Nittany Lions. He has earned it with his play (55.6 percent, seven touchdowns, three interceptions). Even last week, when he went just 9-for-24 for 98 yards, he was at his best late in the fourth quarter, hitting four of six passes in the decisive 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
He believes he and his team are both different than at the end of 2010, when he last started for an extended stretch. For his part, he is more settled now, more comfortable in the role.
It's a matter of experience, he said -- knowing what to do with the football, knowing what not to do with the football. It's more controlling the game, rather than trying to make big plays. Big plays will happen for you in the offense. You just have to learn when to take your shots, and learn that they're going to come at some point. You cannot just force them.
And it's a matter of knowing he has the backing of his teammates, something that was reinforced by his play down the stretch against Illinois.
If a quarterback's calm, relaxed and confident, then his players are going to be calm, relaxed and confident, he said. That's really what it takes, especially in a situation like that.
That drive right there, he added, proved that when we need a drive, we're capable of doing it as an offense. Obviously we don't want that to happen every game. We don't want to need that drive. But in a situation where you're going to have a successful season, you needed a game like that, and you needed to have a drive like that with the type of team you were. Now that we know that, we're able to move along, have more confidence, hopefully be more successful.
The Lions' resolve grew out of a 2010 season in which they were fragmented and leaderless, as their 7-6 finish reflects. Now, McGloin said, This team has something special. Guys are close off the field, unified on it. He offered as an example his friendship with wide receiver Derek Moye, and how that helps during games -- the latest example being Moye's work late in the victory over Illinois.
And as a whole the club was hardened by last year's failures, left with a feeling of loss and feeling of being defeated, as McGloin said.
It is, he added, one of the worst feelings you can feel, I think. This team knows that feeling and doesn't want to go back to that feeling. That feeling makes us work harder. That feeling makes us come more together as a team and try to be stronger.
That's always been in the back of our minds.
He reiterated that the quarterback rotation has left him frustrated at times, as would be the case with anyone.
You're going to have arguments and things like that, he said.
You're always going to have arguments, whether it be with players or coaches, he said. As a quarterback you're going to have those things, and it's a good thing to discuss things and get fired up. It means you're emotional. It means you want to get better as a team. In the end it becomes laughable. You're willing to work with guys and you're willing to try to get better with people. That's what football's all about. In any profession and every school there are going to be arguments, typically. But at the end of the day you come together and (get) on the same page.
There was another question about communication, and whether McGloin was getting more feedback from Joe Paterno and his son Jay, the team's quarterbacks coach, than he had earlier in the season. McGloin said he was, that Jay Paterno has been more involved with telling the quarterbacks what's been going on, with the rotation and things like that.
Early on, McGloin said, it was just kind of understood that Rob would go first, I would go second. Now as we get deeper and deeper into Big Ten play, Jay realizes he needs to be a little more clear about things that are going on, more clear with the game plan and things like that. They've really come a long way in talking about the quarterback situation.
Certainly the fans made their feelings known about the situation Saturday, as did Robinson and Shipley. Bolden took a lot of flak.
I've been there, McGloin said. It's hard as a player. It's hard as a person, any time they get criticized.
At the same time, he said, it comes with the territory.
You just have to learn how to deal with it, he said. Myself and these other players on the team have just become so strong in the mental game that we've learned to deal with things like that, and Rob is doing it really well, because it doesn't seem to have bothered him.
McGloin said he will return home to Scranton this weekend, chill with his family, maybe watch LSU-Alabama on TV. Then it's on with the rest of the season. The part where this team -- his team, now more than ever -- will make its bones.