PENN STATE interim coach Tom Bradley doesn't have anyone capable of adequately imitating Houston quarterback Case Keenum in practice.
His bigger problem might be trying to find someone to imitate Nittany Lions' injured starting quarterback Matt McGloin - not only in practice, but possibly in the TicketCity Bowl against Keenum and the high-scoring Cougars on Monday in Dallas' historic Cotton Bowl.
But Bradley, who might be making his final appearance as a member of the Penn State coaching staff after a 33-year run as a Joe Paterno assistant, is approaching the contest with the unflustered air of someone who has seen the immediate future and enjoys the view. And so what if he has to spend the next few crucial days with uncertainty at the game's most crucial position, and an incredible shrinking roster, to boot?
"This [Penn State] team is excited to come and play," Bradley said yesterday before a spirited practice at Dallas' Bishop Lynch High School. "We like the matchup. It's a great draw for us. We couldn't have asked for a better [opponent].
"One of the things I said to Dr. [Dave] Joyner [Penn State's acting athletic director] was that we'd like to play someone that's ranked higher than us. He might have gone overboard getting Houston."
What's that old saying? Oh, yeah. Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it. No. 24 Penn State (9-3) opened as a six-point underdog to No. 20 Houston (12-1), a spread that figures to widen as the ramifications of the Lions' thinning roster become evident.
As solid as Penn State's nationally recognized defense is, some wonder whether Bradley's relatively pedestrian offense can keep up with the highest-scoring, most-yardage-inhaling attack in college football, should the game turn into a track meet. And that figures to be the situation even if McGloin is available. The redshirt junior from Scranton banged his head on the locker-room floor during a fight with wide receiver Curtis Drake on Dec. 17, resulting in a seizure and possible concussion.
Asked whether McGloin - whose 1,571 passing yards and eight touchdowns this season seem downright puny when measured against Keenum's 5,099 yards and 45 TDs - would be medically cleared to play, Bradley said, "That's day-to-day. That's up to Dr. [Wayne] Sebastianelli [Penn State's team physician], They're testing him and working him out every day."
McGloin did not practice yesterday.
Bradley has yet to confirm or refute that McGloin suffered a concussion, but the Associated Press reported that he did. If he can't go, he'll be replaced in the lineup by sophomore Rob Bolden, who started the first seven games this season, but never settled into any kind of groove, completing only 42.2 percent of his passes for 548 yards and a single touchdown with four interceptions.
Behind Bolden is redshirt junior Shane McGregor, with one 12-yard pass completion for his career. Behind McGregor is . . . well, don't ask.
Redshirt freshman Paul Jones, a former four-star player who has yet to appear in an actual game because of academic problems, failed to make grades again and did not make the trip to Dallas. That hurts in more ways than one, since Jones has been the scout-team quarterback all season and would have been called on to play the role of Keenum in practice. Minus Jones, Bradley must ask backup placekicker/wide receiver Evan Lewis, a high school QB, to replicate Keenum.
As if all that weren't enough, Drake - who logged some quarterback snaps the past two games out of the Wildcat formation - requested not to make the trip, citing mental fatigue. Bradley excused him and fellow wide receiver Shawney Kersey, although he said both players remain members of the squad.
"After the incident between me and Matt, I was tired," Drake said. "I needed to step back and take a break. It was my decision."
Another academic casualty is reserve cornerback Derrick Thomas, which means one fewer fresh body to shuttle in and out of the secondary when Keenum is filling the Texas sky with passes.