Published November 20, 2014
Greg McElroy doesn't think he could have succeeded right out of high school.
Alabama's senior quarterback says the college game for a freshman moves at "100 mph." And that makes him all the more impressed with what Penn State's Rob Bolden has accomplished in one promising start against Youngstown State.
His second career start will be a lot tougher. No. 18 Penn State (1-0) travels to Tuscaloosa to take on the top-ranked Crimson Tide (1-0) on Saturday night.
"I would have gotten killed. I was skinny," said McElroy, who redshirted his first year at Alabama. "That's OK. We make due with what we've got. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. For some people, not so much. It worked out for me, I guess, in the long run, right?"
McElroy is 15-0 as Alabama's starting quarterback, with just five interceptions in 361 career attempts. He completed 61 percent of his passes last year in helping the Tide to a national championship.
McElroy didn't miss a beat last week in the season opener against San Jose State, going 13 of 16 passing for 218 yards and a TD.
"He scrambles outside the blitz in the pocket. ... If he's outside, he can run. He's a heck of a competitor," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "I think he's a guy that when they've been in trouble, he's answered for them."
Bolden last week threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns at home against the Penguins — an FCS team — in a sensational debut. He is the first freshman quarterback to start a season opener in Paterno's 45 years as head coach.
"He sure didn't look like a freshman last week," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "The guy hard counts like a veteran, draws the other team offsides. He stood in the pocket, took a couple of licks and completed" passes.
A month ago, this game could have been billed as a duel between two top running backs in Alabama's Mark Ingram and Penn State's Evan Royster. But Ingram, the Heisman Trophy-winning tailback, is unlikely to play Saturday because of a left knee injury — though Saban hasn't ruled out his star.
Royster is 42 yards shy of the 3,000-yard mark for his career, and he's 441 away from breaking the school career rushing mark of 3,398 held by Hall of Famer Curt Warner. But Royster had a subpar game last week with 40 yards on 11 carries after the offensive line got off to a sluggish start in opening rushing lanes.
The Nittany Lions will likely need more production from Royster and backups Stephfon Green and Silas Redd to keep Alabama's defense off-balanced and Bolden out of third-and-long situations.
Paterno thinks Bolden has the poise to handle the pressure.
"He's going to get knocked around. We can't protect him (against Alabama) like we did. ... He's going to have trouble finding open people," Paterno said. "But I don't think he's going to lose his poise."
Bolden may need to speak up a little more, though, to offset 100,000-plus fans trying to disrupt his every move. Last week, teammates told Bolden to raise his voice while calling plays in the huddle — something the Penn State offense didn't have an issue with last season with charismatic Daryll Clark at quarterback.
"He's little quieter guy in the huddle compared to Daryll but he's already speaking louder," receiver Graham Zug said. "He's learning, and he's making a lot of progress."
The 18-year-old Bolden could take some lessons Saturday night from McElroy, the 22-year-old senior with an unblemished football resume. McElroy has won his last 31 starts as a starter, dating to his senior year in high school in 2005.
McElroy has plenty of other options even if Ingram doesn't play, like backup running back Trent Richardson and 6-foot-4 wide receiver Julio Jones. With excellent protection, McElroy can burn defenses down the field.
Former Alabama defensive back Don McNeal has split allegiances. He's one of the stars from the 1979 Sugar Bowl victory over Penn State that won a national title for the Tide, but also Bolden's great uncle.
"I'm torn between the two, but I guess I've got to go with Alabama (because) my whole family's going with my nephew," McNeal said. "You know what? I want him to do great, but I don't want him to do that great because we want to win the football game."
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this report.