Matt McGloin saw that Purdue was jumping the slip screen, and saw an opportunity to go over the top. He made the suggestion to Bill O'Brien, and shortly after, found Brandon Moseby-Felder behind the defense for a 41-yard touchdown.
Matt McGloin has earned Bill O'Brien's trust by demonstrating command of Penn State's offense.
"During the games he sees things and he'll say, 'Hey, they're doing this, we might want to try that,'" O'Brien said of his senior quarterback. "And they're good thoughts."
To implement the offensive packages he brought from Duke and Maryland and Georgia Tech and, most especially, the New England Patriots, O'Brien has needed his quarterback to be his eyes and ears, a direct line from his brain to the rest of the offense.
McGloin, in his fifth year of college football but just his 11th month as an O'Brien quarterback, is not completely in synch with his head coach, as evidenced by the number of first-half timeouts the Nittany Lions have burned this season and by some of the exasperated looks on O'Brien's face after (or before) certain plays. But the melding of the minds has helped Penn State win six of seven games and been one of the keys to one of the Big Ten's best passing attacks.
It is also laying the groundwork for O'Brien's relationships with future quarterbacks, which will determine the effectiveness of future offenses.
McGloin takes his role as the head of Penn State's offense very seriously and with no small measure of pride. As he has gotten more comfortable with the framework of O'Brien's offense, he sees more ways to attack defenses. He knows that O'Brien sees those things -- and a dozen others -- as well, but as a veteran player and the leader of the offense, will at least discuss them with his coach.
"I don't want to tell him how to do his job -- that's the last thing he wants to hear," McGloin said. "The more comfortable you get, you throw some small ideas out there … you have to tell him what plays you like and what plays you don't like and he'll somehow incorporate that into the game plan."
O'Brien became famous for his sideline spat with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but the two had a strong working relationship built on countless hours in the film room and mutual trust. The coach knows he needs to build similar relationships with his college proteges.
"As you learn more about your role and the offense, you have every right to have communication between coach and player," O'Brien said, "and Matt has definitely earned that right."
O'Brien doesn't mind input, but only when it's coming from a player, quarterback or otherwise, who has proven, as McGloin has, that he understands what's happening on the field.
"I want a player that understands that he needs to earn the right to do that," O'Brien said. "But then once he shows us and gains our trust that he can go out there and make plays and get us into the right play and make good decisions, that, yeah, as the relationship builds, you definitely want to hear what he thinks."
McGloin said this week he would love another season to play in this offense alongside some of the targets -- Allen Robinson, Kyle Carter, Jesse James -- he's thrown to this season. His advice for his successors wasn't about footwork or checkdowns but on mastering the schemes -- not just his responsibilities as quarterback but everyone's.
"You have to put the time and effort into it and know what everybody does," he said. "That's why I'm the quarterback here. I know what the linemen are doing. I know what everybody does on every play. If you're a young guy that wants to be a starter here that's what you need to do."
When O'Brien arrived, McGloin was one of three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Now, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones are gone, and his current backup, freshman Steven Bench, has played only a handful of snaps. Is McGloin the best athlete of that bunch? Unlikely. But he has been, throughout the entire time, the one best suited to be an extension of his head coach on the field.
"People have critiqued him and this and that, but this guy has had a good year," O'Brien said. "The proof is in how he's played and he's meant a lot to our football team, and I'm proud of the kid for how far he's come."