Commentary: Change suits McGloin much better than Vandenberg


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One of the fifth-year seniors playing quarterback in Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 20 scrambled to avoid pass-rushers, kept his eyes scanning downfield, and threw bullet passes to receivers all game long.

He was totally in command of a high-flying new offensive system built on a fast-paced no-huddle approach. He calmly picked apart the defense and led his teammates down the field over and over again.

The other one was James Vandenberg.

Penn State was better than Iowa in almost every possible way on Oct. 20, so it’s too simplistic to pin all the credit and blame on one position. But it was hard not to notice the stark contrast between the teams’ signal-callers.

When the game was still scoreless in the first quarter, Nittany Lion quarterback Matt McGloin dodged a sack by Iowa lineman Riley McMinn. He sprinted toward the right sideline and pointed downfield at a receiver. Then he planted his feet and threw a perfect bullet pass back across the middle for a 31-yard touchdown.

It was the sort of quick-thinking, improvisational play that Vandenberg seems so incapable of making this season. That continued all night, as Vandenberg threw for just 189 yards — 100 fewer than McGloin — and connected on fewer than half his throws.

What made that so striking was how unlikely it would have seemed two months ago. Vandenberg was coming off a season in which he passed for more than 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. Quite a few experts called him the Big Ten’s best passer. McGloin, on the other hand, had directed a miserable Nittany Lion offense last season, and nobody expected much better this year.

But things changed for both quarterbacks. Their teams each experienced significant coaching changes for the first time in many years. New offensive minds — Bill O’Brien as head coach at Penn State and Greg Davis as Iowa’s new offensive coordinator — arrived on both campuses and promised fresh ideas and wrinkles.

The change looks much better on McGloin than it does on Vandenberg.

Penn State ran 90 offensive plays against Iowa’s 59. McGloin called many of them at the line of scrimmage, directing the team like a confident veteran. Each of the Nittany Lions’ first three scoring drives travelled more than 60 yards over at least nine plays and took fewer than four minutes.

Iowa linebacker James Morris admitted that speedy no-huddle attack gave Iowa problems. And he indicated McGloin is benefitting from the new game plan this season.

“He’s much improved,” Morris said. “That program as a whole has more of an identity this year, and that starts up at the top.”

That logic, if you apply it to the Hawkeyes, doesn’t say good things about Davis and his new playbook. Vandenberg appears to have regressed, and he hasn’t had a good game yet this season. He has given his spot atop the Big Ten passer rankings to McGloin and taken the Penn State quarterback’s seat near the bottom.

The hope in both Iowa City and State College, Pa., was that their football teams would introduce a little unpredictability this season.

Matt McGloin buried James Vandenberg and the Hawkeyes under an avalanche of points in Kinnick Stadium.

And that’s about as unpredictable as it gets.

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