Streaking Penn State faces unbeaten Ohio State at Beaver Stadium Saturday, in a game many believe will determine -- for the time being, at least -- the Big Ten's best team. But don't be surprised if you hear about the fighting Irish during the ESPN national telecast.
No, we are not talking about Notre Dame, but rather the leaders of the Nittany Lions' suddenly explosive offensive -- first-year head coach Bill O'Brien and senior quarterback Matt McGloin.
O'Brien is the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, whose biggest moment in the spotlight before working his magic for 5-2 Penn State was a nationally televised sideline quarrel with future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady late last season.
McGloin is the veteran who before this season was more well-known for his sharp tongue than sharp passing.
We're Irish men, we have a bit of angriness about us, McGloin said Wednesday. We're competitive guys, and I guess we can both fly off the handle at any second.
And yet the relationship has been a big part of Penn State's success this year, which includes the former part-time starter McGloin emerging as the Big Ten's leading passer (255.4 yards per game) and the Lions' pro-style, no-huddle offense averaging better than 37 points per game in the conference.
McGloin chalks it up to the player and coach bringing out the best in one another.
We may bump heads once in a while; we may have our disagreements, he explained. But we've become closer. At the end of the day, it's just about being competitive and wanting to do what's best for the team.
Senior center Matt Stankiewitch has a slightly different take on things. He said while McGloin does in fact speak his mind, in the end everyone -- including the QB -- defers to O'Brien's wisdom.
Sometimes Matt gets a little emotional and Coach O'Brien has to bring him back down to the ground, Stankiewitch said. They go at it sometimes, but none of us are going to challenge Coach O'Brien.
For his part, O'Brien has consistently praised McGloin, who easily beat out the since departed Rob Bolden (LSU) and Paul Jones (quit the team earlier this season) for the starting job in the spring.
Matt's just a very bright guy, a competitive guy, O'Brien said. He's done a nice job (with) the operation this year -- calling the plays and understanding the play clock and understanding the situation. Through seven games, you can't say enough about Matt McGloin. The guy has worked at it, he's prepared and he's a fun guy to coach.
The first-year coach doubles as Penn State's offensive coordinator, and as such gets the plays in to McGloin before every snap.
He yells from the sideline, believe it or not, McGloin said. I can hear him wherever we are. I can hear his voice above everyone else's. We have no problem communicating.
That communication is essential because in this offense, the quarterback is asked to do a lot. When operating from the huddle, the play is signaled in to McGloin. At the line, he makes pre-snap adjustments and has to the ability to check out of plays.
In the no-huddle -- or NASCAR, as PSU calls it -- all of that happens at the line.
It comes fairly easy to me because I need to do it constantly at practice, McGloin said. It might be tougher for the running backs and everybody because they're rotating in and out.
But it really is not that difficult if you focus your mind on it and pay attention and understand what we're trying to do.
Though player and coach may butt heads at time, O'Brien's trust in McGloin has actually been expressed more loudly through actions than words. And the senior quarterback knows it, thanks to the responsibilities he's been given in the offense.
As a quarterback, what's not to like about it? McGloin said. You're in charge out there. As long as Coach O'Brien believes in you and has faith in you, you have control to change the plays. You can get your team into the right plays. It's definitely an exciting offense to be in.