After initially saying that he would name Penn State’s starting quarterback about two weeks into training camp, coach Bill O’Brien kept pushing the date back, and back, and back again.
On Tuesday, he gave the date one final push. He can’t go back any further.
“You’ll find out who the quarterback is on our first offensive play of the game against Syracuse,” O’Brien said at his first teleconference of the season, referring to Saturday’s opener at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
So now it’s a closely guarded secret as to whether sophomore Tyler Ferguson, a junior college transfer, or highly regarded freshman Christian Hackenberg will get the job. O’Brien won’t even let on whether either of the candidates knows, or the rest of his coaching staff, or if he has indeed made a decision.
Still, O’Brien said he understands that the Penn State fans want to know who their starter will be.
“The game of football, in many ways, it’s obviously for the players and the coaches,” he said. “But it’s for the fans. It’s a spectator sport. And I get that, and I love the Penn State fans.
“So I’m not trying to do it to bust anybody’s chops. I want to do what’s best for the football team right now, the 2013 football team, and I want to do what’s best for the guys involved, and I want to do what’s best for Penn State. And what’s best for Penn State right now is for you to find out when we take the field for the first snap of offensive football against Syracuse.”
O’Brien said the ages of the contestants — the 19-year-old Ferguson and the 18-year-old Hackenberg — also has something to do with his course of action.
“That’s part of it,” he said. “Christian just got here a month ago, a little bit more than that. Tyler was here in January. Last year you had a seasoned guy [Matt McGloin] who had been through a lot here at Penn State, he was going into his fifth year. It was a totally different story last year.
“Again, it’s more about what’s best for the team. The team understands the direction that we’re headed within the [football] building there at Lasch, and they know where we’re going. So that’s what’s important.”
Maybe O’Brien got the idea from Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, who said last week he would not disclose the name of his starter, who would replace record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib (Malvern Prep). The two candidates there are senior Drew Allen, a transfer from Oklahoma, and sophomore Terrel Hunt.
O’Brien said that no matter who gets the start on Saturday, both quarterbacks must be ready to play given that neither player has been on the field for a single down as a Nittany Lion. He added that the quarterback competition would continue beyond the Syracuse game.
O’Brien also didn’t tip his hand by naming a starter at two other positions that are running dead even — offensive right tackle (Adam Gress and Garry Gilliam) and safety (Ryan Keiser and Malcolm Willis). But each contender at those two spots will play a lot of football, he said.
Nittany notes. Defensive back Neiko Robinson of Century, Fla., one of 17 players in Penn State’s original freshman class of 2013, is no longer with the team. O’Brien declined to describe the reason but said “it had nothing to do with discipline. The kid is a fantastic kid. It just didn’t work out here at Penn State.” … O’Brien said he has revamped the assistant coaches’ responsibilities with special teams, with Ron Vanderlinden (linebackers) and Charles London (running backs) each in charge of two special-teams areas.
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