PSU's Bolden shows promise
STATE COLLEGE - In the movie "Forrest Gump", the title character is fond of comparing life to a box of chocolates, because one never knows what you'll get.
Starting the season with a new quarterback, especially a true freshman, can be a lot like that.
For the most part, Penn State had to like the taste of what Robert Bolden gave them behind center in the Nittany Lions' 44-14 opening win over Youngstown State Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
After a slow start, including an interception, Bolden found his rhythm in the pocket, completing 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns.
His favorite target was senior wide receiver Brett Brackett, who had a career day with eight receptions for 98 yards and 2 TDs.
Youngstown State concentrated on slowing the Lions' running game, holding Evan Royster to just 40 yards, in order to force PSU to make Bolden throw.
That strategy worked for much of the first half, and the Penguins actually had a 7-3 lead in the second quarter after burning the Lions on an 80 yard TD with a rocket screen to Dominique Barnes.
To that point, it wasn't looking like Bolden's day, and with Joe Paterno's promise to play his other quarterbacks, Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin, Bolden could have been looking over his shoulder.
Instead, he hit Brackett for a TD and led two more scoring drives that resulted in a pair of Collin Wagner field goals, including one out of the two minute drill, that gave the Lions a 16-7 halftime lead.
Chaz Powell gave the Lions a shot of adrenaline to open the second half with his 100 yard kickoff return to paydirt, which survived a review due to his tip-toe act near the sideline, and Penn State eventually wore down the Penguins from that point.
Bolden's performance drew thumbs' up from the PSU coaches and players.
All those (quarterbacks) are good prospects," said Joe Paterno. "I had to make a decision on one. He's got a good arm, he has some poise, and he did some things a little better than the other guys on more occasions.
"There were days where I came off the field not knowing who I wanted to play. I've been around long enough and I've been around a few kids in 60 years and he just seemed to be the right guy at the right time. But we'll see. It's still a long year."
"I think Rob did a great job for his first start," said Brackett. "He showed above and beyond what we expected with his poise and confidence. He did a great job reading the defense, finding the holes, and finding me."
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno noted that, as one might expect, Bolden was locking onto one receiver early in the game, but then did a better job of selecting the open target.
Bolden ended up setting a passing record for a true freshman QB at PSU making his first start. Tony Sacca was 15 of 27 for 215 yards in a 1988 loss to Syracuse.
Defensively, after giving up the big play on the screen, the Lions buckled down. In his first start, linebacker Chris Colasanti had a career-high 13 tackles, and fellow linebackers Bani Gbadyu and Nate Stupar and defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu were among the top stoppers.
Bolden's learning curve will need to be accelerated this week, however, as Penn State faces defending national champion and top ranked Alabama Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the first meeting between the schools since 1990.
The Crimson Tide won't have fictional Gump or perhaps injured Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, but Joe Paterno still remarked that the Tide might be the most talented team PSU has faced since Miami in the 1986 Orange Bowl.
If Youngstown State was a pop quiz for Bolden, Alabama is a doctorate dissertation by comparison.
"He got here in May, and when you come in and learn a new system at quarterback, it's like learning a new language," related Jay Paterno. "We had to put that program together to help him learn. He learned Spanish this week. Next week, he has to learn Mandarin-Chinese, and be fluent in it on the road."
The Lions' other QBs saw limited action. Newsome did lead a TD drive and showcased his ability to run during his short stint, which could come in handy against Alabama.
"We are going to play it week-by-week, practice-by-practice and hopefully come up with the best combination for various situations and we will take it from there," cautioned Joe Paterno.