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Morelli still PSU’s best QB option

October 1, 2007
By Cory Giger,
Anthony Morelli has his warts, no question about it.

Penn State’s senior quarterback is not good in the clutch.

He hurts his team as much or more than he helps it sometimes.

He makes some terrible decisions, terrible throws and is terrible scrambling.

He’s not a leader.

He has thin skin and spouts off on occasion with a sense of entitlement he hasn’t come close to earning.

He can’t win the big game.

He doesn’t seem to be well-liked by his teammates.

He lacks moxie.

Hmmm, anything else?

OK, just one more:

He still deserves to be the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback.

Huh? Some of you who gave up on Morelli a long time ago may be saying to yourself: ‘‘You can’t be serious!’’

Well, despite everything else above being true, despite all the frustration over back-to-back losses, despite this season having the potential to unravel, there’s also one thing all Penn State fans need to stop, take a deep breath and consider.

Morelli is still probably the best quarterback on the team, warts and all.

The most popular player in football is often the backup quarterback, the unknown commodity fans love to rally behind when the starter struggles. But you know, he usually has a lot more and uglier warts that just can’t be seen because he’s hidden in oblivion on the bench.

Above all his flaws, Morelli’s biggest weakness is his inability to generate touchdowns in the red zone. The Lions had no TDs in four opportunities in a 14-9 loss at Michigan last week and only one in six chances during Saturday’s 27-20 loss at Illinois.

That’s 1-for-10, which is awful.

But here’s the catch: If Penn State were a mere 3-for-10, it probably would be sitting here today 5-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country, instead of 3-2 and unranked. One touchdown would have beaten Michigan, and just one more may have changed the flow and outcome of the game against Illinois.

With Morelli under center, the Lions have had chances to win. He’s moved the offense into scoring position enough — he threw for a career-high 298 yards Saturday — only to falter in the red zone.

You want to take a big risk, go ahead and replace Morelli with backup Daryll Clark. There’s a chance Clark could be an upgrade, yes, but there’s also a better chance he could be much worse.

Clark may not be able to move the offense at all. The junior is such an unknown and hasn’t proven himself in one meaningful situation.

There’s just no reason to take that big of a gamble. Not yet.

This still could be a very good season for Penn State. While true, the way the Lions have played, they could lose to anybody left on their schedule — except Temple — it’s also true they can beat anybody left on their schedule without making one single personnel change on offense.

Stick with Morelli, and 10-2 is still possible. Not likely, but possible.

If Joe Paterno were to bench his senior quarterback and team captain right now, the Lions run the risk of going 6-6. That’s a realistic possibility if Clark proves incapable of moving the offense.

The belief here is Morelli can move the offense, given enough freedom from the coaching staff to throw downfield.

Instead of tinkering with the notion of a quarterback switch, Penn State’s primary concern — maybe its only concern — should be fixing the red zone problems. Put every ounce of energy into finding a solution there, coming up with new, intricate, creative plays.

Don’t run useless plays like a pitch left to the tailback on third-and-goal at the 1, like the Lions tried Saturday with Rodney Kinlaw and had stuffed for a 2-yard loss.

Maybe the way to use Clark is in the red zone. His running ability would give defenses something to consider, and perhaps he even can be in the game with Morelli at times. Or give Clark a few snaps throughout the game to try some new wrinkles.

By the way, there’s no reason to even consider turning things over to redshirt freshman Pat Devlin. That would be a total panic move given this team’s still-untapped potential.

Morelli has more than his share of flaws, but it’s not like there’s a wealth of talent behind him that’s ready to play. If you want him benched, just be careful what you wish for unless you’re prepared to see the season collapse.

Cory Giger is at 949-7031 and />

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