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It's Time - Penn State Needs to Let Robert Bolden Play

It was analyzed and prognosticated throughout the off-season that going into the Big Ten opener Penn State would be 3-1.  Well true to form, Penn State is 3-1! (congratulations to anyone who looked at a schedule that said Youngstown State, Alabama, Kent State, Temple and thought Penn State would lose one of those games).  The only difference was everyone assumed Kevin Newsome or Matt McGloin (for at least a week) would be the starting QB and not true freshman Robert Bolden.

Now that we are entering Big Ten play, the games matter more.  Would it have been nice to beat Alabama?  Of course it would, but realistically everyone without blue tinted glassed on assumed they would lose that game.  The Iowa Hawkeyes have been bane of Penn State's existence the past two seasons.  It's time for Penn State to flip the script and beat the Hawkeyes.  In order to do so, Penn State needs to take the handcuffs off Robert Bolden and let him play.

The hope for any young QB is for them to continue to grow and progress each week.  Bolden was on that path leading up to the Temple game, but something happened to him; he played scared.  For the first time, Bolden looked scared to make a mistake.  Even though he threw no interceptions in a game for the first time in his career, Bolden looked hesitant to go deep and throw the ball into tight windows, almost worrying about the interception and turnovers that plagued him the previous three weeks (especially at Alabama).  Take a look at his first four weeks, right now Bolden is an average QB wth a lot of room to improve:

#1 Bolden, Rob  Comp-Att-Int  Pct  Yards  TD  Long  Sack-Yds  Effic 
Youngstown State  20-29-1  69.0  239  27  0-0  154.06 
Alabama  13-29-2  44.8  144  31  0-0  72.74 
Kent State  17-27-2  63.0  217  55  0-0  127.88 
Temple  18-28-0  64.3  223  33  1-19  131.19 
TOTALS  68-113-5  60.2  823  55  1-19  121.27
The quickest way for Bolden to improve is for the coaches to give him the opportunity to audible and check out of plays/formations that he notices aren't going to work.  The book is already out on the 2010 Penn State Nittany Lions; stack the box, limit Evan Royster and Stephfon Green and make Bolden try and beat you (with the play that was called in the huddle).

With the ability to check out of a specific play, run or pass, will allow the offense to put itself in favorable down and distances.  The hope is that by calling audibles and changing some plays at the line of scrimmage, Penn State will be able to avoid those brutal 1st and 2nd down handoffs up the middle for a gain of one or none.  The redzone problems...answered.

Think about it this way, if Bolden had the ability to change plays and call audibles, do you think he would have changed the play against Alabama in the redzone that ended in an INT?  Yes.  Instead of throwing up an ill advised pass he could have checked to a more suitable one yard run play and lived to fight another down.  He has already proven he is a bright kid and a fast learner.  There is no reason to NOT let him change a play or two (in the right situation).  Show some confidence in the kid and he just might surprise the coaches (and you the fan).

Put yourself in his shoes.  How much would you succeed if you were told every week:

  1. Don't turn the ball over
  2. Don't run
  3. Don't get any penalties
  4. Don't get hurt
  5. Don't change the play
  6. Throw the ball 29 times a game
  7. Run the offense
  8. Make plays
  9. Be careful
  10. Be vocal
  11. Be composed
  12. Be a leader

That is a lot to ask an 18 year old kid to do.  Last week against Temple, Bolden was thinking too much about turning the ball over.  The coaches don't want him to scramble and run, yet they call a base option play in which the QB gets blasted on the pitch or the carry.  If Penn State is going to win some of these Big Ten road games this year, the list above should read like this:

  1. Be yourself

After four games, as fans, we don't know what that means.  But after 18 years, Robert Bolden knows what it means. Give him the opportunity to show everyone else.  There is a reason he is starting at Penn State as a true freshman, let him show it. 

Every game this season, Penn State has run a different version of the Spread HD.  The version that works the best for Bolden's skill set is the Shotgun read-option offense.  When he ran that against Kent State he looked comfortable with his progressions and the run game even worked.  Bolden's production dips when he is under center.  The read-option offense would give him a pass, run (to the RB), or run himself. The only thing holding that back is the coaches demand that Bolden not use his legs. 

If Penn State wants to have a chance against Iowa on Saturday, they need to let Bolden make plays, regardless if it is with his arm or his legs.  The kid can run, we've seen glimpses of it in the previous two games.  Is he Michael Robinson, a QB that runs like a Sherman Tank, no he isn't (that is Kevin Newsome's job).  He is however the first Robert Bolden. Don't think for a minute he should make one read and run.  JoePa just needs to give him the freedom to run when the opportunity arises.

From what we have seen thus far he has an outstanding arm, good mobility, and is very bright.  He has made some freshman mistakes, but that is what Penn State signed up for when they gave Bolden the opportunity to start.  They knew there were going to be in-game learning moments, and I'm sure there will be more to come as the season progresses.  If Penn State wants to make some noise in the Big Ten this year, they need to let Robert Bolden play.