The long-awaited debut of Anthony Morelli as #1 quarterback on the roster was portended by his performance in the Blue-White spring intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday, as he led the Blue team to a 17-0 victory over the White. In an impressive passing performance, Morelli completed 13 of 16 passes for 191 yards in the first half. Aside from Morelli’s passing ability, however, there remain many questions about how this Nittany Lion team will fare in the fall.
With junior quarterback Morelli at the helm, the Nittany Lions will gain a stronger and more accurate passer than they’ve had in the recent past, perhaps going back to Kerry Collins. Morelli eventually might be even better than Collins—watching his quick release brought to mind a few other Western Pennsylvania guys from years past: Dan Marino, Joe Namath, and Joe Montana. Morelli’s wrist is gifted in that same way, and he can heave the ball a mile, too. (He threw it 50 yards in a punt, pass, and kick competition—as a 10 year-old!) In this scrimmage, he showed his stuff early with a 41-yard completion to Jordan Norwood.
Morelli also deftly led the Blue team to a touchdown in the two-minute drill as the clock wound down at the end of the first half. He showed poise and skill moving the ball down the field.
The Lions will lose a dimension or two in the offense with the departure of last year’s starting QB, Michael Robinson. Robinson had the desire and the athletic ability to pull rabbits out of hats when games were on the line. It remains to be seen whether Morelli will be able to function as well in the clutch. One thing is for certain: Morelli does not possess Robinson’s fleetness of foot and evasive abilities when he pulls the ball down and runs with it. Last year, Robinson’s ability to improvise runs when nothing was available downfield in third and fourth down situations was one huge reason for the 2005 team’s great success. Morelli did not impress with the couple of scrambles he attempted in the Blue-White game.
At the beginning of last season, fans were screaming for Robinson to be benched and Morelli to play instead. Those same egg-faced fans can now see why that would have been a major mistake. Sure, Michael fumbled a few, but at least two 2005 victories could be attributed to Michael Robinson’s leadership and field performance. Morelli has a lot to live up to.
The next question to ask of this squad is whether they can run the ball when the going gets rough. The Blue team’s first two trips to the red zone wound up failing at the goal line at the behest of a spunky, second-team White defense. The Blues could not run the ball in, although one failure occurred when Morelli himself fumbled. On that series, linebacker Tyrell Sales was responsible for stopping Blue fullback BranDon Snow on one play and causing Morelli’s fumble on the next.
However, that last question perhaps answers another. If anyone was worried at all about depth at linebacker, the fine performance of Tyrell Sales and Jerome Hayes should allay those fears.
The defensive backfield is another issue. With all four positions from last year lost to graduation, there will be some big shoes to fill. Justin King is solid at one corner. Lydell Sargent will be moving to safety, after playing offense last year. This game exposed us to the talents of freshman corner Knowledge Timmons, who wound up with two picks in this scrimmage.
Derrick Williams appears to be fully recovered from his broken arm. His speed and evasiveness were on display, and he seemed to have lost nothing as he befuddled the defense with a 17-yard run. Another dimension of Williams—as if his running and receiving ability are not enough—was on display in the waning minutes of the third quarter. Williams lined up at QB, completing one pass to Jordan Norwood, and on the next play, launched a Robinsonesque bomb in the general direction of Deon Butler, which fell incomplete. Williams was an option quarterback in high school.
The size of the crowd was disappointing, only 18,000. However, the game was covered on Fox Sports Pittsburgh and was viewable on television for most of the state, so no doubt many folks chose the drier option of watching at home or in their neighborhood bar. The day of the Blue-White game has been a soggy one for five of the past six years.