QB Matt McGloin limiting turnovers

Matt McGloin smiled Saturday and knocked three times when his season stats were mentioned: Eight touchdowns, one interception.

To repel any jinx, he knocked again -- a few minutes later -- when that number was repeated.

"I just haven't been trying to do too much this year, I guess you could say," McGloin said Wednesday.

The fifth-year senior has already tossed as many touchdowns as he did all of last year, when he split time with Rob Bolden. He leads the conference in passing touchdowns, and all those scores came on just 104 attempts.

Last year, he needed more than twice that (231) to find the end zone eight times. And, five times, his passes were completed to the wrong team.

"I haven't been trying to press myself or force myself to make big plays," McGloin said. "I'm the starter and I don't feel like I need to go out there and make big plays to stay in the football game. That's really where it's come from."

McGloin didn't smile much last year. He paced the sideline with doubts about his ability. He lined up under center and believed he needed a big play to line up again in the next quarter.

That changed when Penn State announced the hiring of Bill O'Brien and McGloin was named the spring starter. The red-headed senior sat down with the former New England coordinator, talked about how the old staff worked, and O'Brien told him how this team would be different.

O'Brien continues to work with McGloin every day -- "Except Sunday," O'Brien clarified -- and the fifth-year senior said he feels "like one of the luckiest quarterbacks in the nation."

"Fortunately, I don't have to think about where I would be if this didn't happen," he said. "But I'm glad Coach O'Brien is here. Without him, I wouldn't be half the quarterback I am today."

He's more relaxed. He's more focused. He's a new quarterback.

And, at this pace, his lessons from O'Brien could translate into one of the more memorable seasons in Penn State passing history. No Nittany Lion has ever tossed 25 touchdowns in a season; McGloin is on pace for 32. Only three quarterbacks have passed for more than 5,500 career yards; McGloin is on pace to slide into the No. 2 spot with 5,871.

McGloin started his marathon senior year with a sprint, a pace that could be difficult to maintain. But the fifth-year starter nicknamed "McMoxie" will certainly slide up the record books, especially on a team whose signal-callers have historically handed off instead of dropped back.

"Matt right now is playing unbelievable," defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said.

His arm strength won't wow NFL scouts -- he severely underthrew Allen Robinson on a 45-yard pass last week -- but his teammates lauded intangibles like his leadership. McGloin is directing an offense that returned just one starter and features an all-new cast of receivers.

Despite those obstacles, he's ranked in the middle of the conference in passing yards and passing efficiency. He's not the best signal-caller in the Big Ten. But, if Penn State wins, a lot of that will have to do with McGloin.

And, for the former walk-on, that's a lot to smile about.