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Irish Insider: Morelli faces his first road test as a starter

Kate Gales and Ken Fowler | Friday, September 8, 2006

Beneath a driving rain, Anthony Morelli dropped back on his first pass attempt in his first game as a starter. Morelli quieted a lot of critics – and earned the loyalty of just as many Penn State fans – with the throw.

He hit Deon Butler deep for a 42-yard score less than five minutes into the game to give the Nittany Lions an early lead they would not surrender.

So much for defenses feasting on an inexperienced quarterback.

“His first throw of the year goes to the house on a bomb,” Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said of the play. “That doesn’t fire me up too much.”

So Weis spent a lot of time this week preparing for the junior signal-caller.

“A drop-back quarterback is a drop-back quarterback,” he said. “You can name him however you want – his name happens to be Morelli.”

Against Akron, Morelli finished 16-of-32 for 206 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions against the Zips in Penn State’s 34-16 win.

Even so, that wasn’t good enough for his coach.

“I think Morelli did a really good job until he started to get a little bit [tentative] on some of his reads. … We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said in his weekly teleconference Tuesday.

Morelli began the game 7-of-10 and completed 10-of-16 passes before halftime.

After working to contain Georgia Tech’s mobile Reggie Ball, the Irish will face a classic pocket passer in Morelli as he makes his first start on the road for the Nittany Lions.

“He’s young but he seems like he’s experienced when he’s throwing the ball,” Irish defensive back Mike Richardson said.

Morelli, 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, has limited mobility. But that doesn’t mean the Irish defensive line doesn’t need to pressure the quarterback.

“[You can’t] give this guy any time to throw because this guy has a cannon for an arm,” Weis said. “He’s tall, he can stand there, he can see things.”

It’s up to Penn State’s offensive line to give Morelli a chance to get comfortable in the pocket. The line returned only senior left tackle Levi Brown from last season, and the Nittany Lions rushed for only 36 yards in the home opener. This week in practice, Paterno added Elijah Robinson, a 6-foot-2, 287-pound defensive lineman, to the offensive line.

But Morelli will still need time to find open receivers like Butler and speedy Derrick Williams, who broke his arm against Michigan last year.

Weis has already done the homework on how best to attack the Nittany Lions offense.

“Each week you have to evaluate the quarterback, the offensive line – you have to evaluate the protection schemes,” he said. “It isn’t just the quarterback, its who’s blocking and protecting the quarterback.”