Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mistake-free Morelli a must versus Ohio State

This weekend Penn State QB Anthony Morelli may be facing the biggest game of his Penn State career when the Nittany Lions (25 AP/22 USA Today) battle Ohio State (1 AP/USA Today) in Happy Valley (8pm, ABC). During last weeks win versus Indiana, Morelli went 22 of 32 with 2 TDs and 1 INT. While he played well enough to lead the team to a win, he must play better against the Buckeyes. Against Indiana, ranked 62nd in total defense and 64th in pass defense, Morelli wasn't able to challenge them deep. Of the few passes attempted over 15 yards, one was hung in the air and was overthrown resulting in his lone INT. Penn State's offensive game plan continually featured WR screens and quick hits that Indiana never picked up on. That won't be the case against Ohio State. The Buckeyes enter their 9th game of the year with the best statistical defense in the league. They rank 1st in both total defense (208 yards/game) and scoring defense (8 points/game) and 2nd in rushing defense (62 yards/game; 1 TD) and passing defense (146 yards/game; 3 TDs).

Ohio State is probably one of the least hyped #1's in recent memory. Some of the nation believes they got there based on reputation and the fact that everyone in front of them lost, not because of how good they are. Looking at Jeff Sagarin's College Football Ratings, Ohio State may be overrated. Ohio State comes in at #3 in the Sagarin ranking format (behind LSU and Kansas) and one of the biggest reasons for this ranking and for national skepticism is their strength of schedule. Sagarin has the Big Ten as the 6th best conference in 2007. Ohio State's strength of schedule (which includes all 242 teams in both subdivisions) is 71st. They have not played any of the teams in Sagarin's current Top 30 (for reference, LSU has played 5 and they are 4-1 against them). But statistics and rankings can only tell you so much. It's not entirely OSU's fault that they have a perceived easy schedule (outside of the nonconference games). The game versus PSU this weekend will serve as a litmus test for both teams. In my opinion, Ohio State is better than people believe. But by the end of the year they will not be #1. But I digress...

The senior QB has been unspectacular and inconsistent in his 21 career starts. While he has a winning record (15-6) as a starter, 6 of those 15 wins are against sub par opponents (Akron, Youngstown State, and Temple in 2006 and Florida International, Notre Dame, and Buffalo this year). Morelli's shortcomings are quite evident and have been stated numerous times. He can't read defenses, he makes poor decisions, he is prone to fumbles and taking sacks (I know they are not always the QBs fault), and he buckles under pressure. These are quite obvious when considering these statistics:

  • 9/9/2006 at Notre Dame: 21 of 33, 189 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack, 76.5 QB Rating
  • 9/23/2006 at Ohio State: 16 of 25, 106 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs, 2 sacks, 33.5 QB Rating
  • 10/14/2006 vs Michigan: 11 of 18, 133 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 5 sacks, 83.8 QB Rating
  • 11/4/2006 at Wisconsin: 19 of 35, 165 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 4 sacks, 55.1 QB Rating
  • 9/22/2007 at Michigan: 15 of 31, 169 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 2 sacks, 65.1 QB Rating
  • 9/29/2007 at Illinois: 21 of 38, 298 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs, 4 sacks, 56.7 QB Rating

Those were Penn State's most important games last year and so far this year. Penn State's record in those six games? 0-6. The Ohio State game in 2006 and the Illinois game this year, in my opinion, demonstrate and validate the notion that Morelli was overrated coming out of high school. In the Ohio State game, Penn State was down 14-6 to number one team in the nation with about 3 minutes remaining. The Nittany Lions were approaching midfield when the Buckeyes intercepted a horrendous Morelli pass and returned it for a score. On the next series Morelli did the same thing. Two 'Pick Sixes' within five passes. Final score 28-6 and ESPN's headline talks about how OSU dominated PSU the whole game. Yeah. An eight point lead with three minutes to go is really dominating.

This year at Illinois Morelli single-handedly lost the game for Penn State. I understand it is a team effort. But his erratic and stupefying play was the deciding factor. In the 4th quarter Penn State was inside the Illinois 25 on three separate occasions. All drives ended in a Morelli turnover (2 INTs and 1 fumble). Both interceptions happened in the end zone and the fumble occurred when Morelli scrambled for a first down on a fourth down play. Penn State loses 27-20.

Morelli was supposed to stabilize the QB position these past two years but he has only continued the tradition of fans and the media calling for the back up. It happened to Matt Senneca with Zack Mills, to Mills with Michael Robinson, to Robinson with Morelli, and now with Morelli for Daryll Clark or Pat Devlin, who's trail to Penn State is eerily similar to Morelli's.

For Penn State to have a chance against the Buckeyes, Morelli must have a spectacular game. He doesn't need to be Brian Brohm, Matt Ryan, or Andre Woodson. He must perform like Trent Dilfer did for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Play mistake free and make the smart pass during clutch situations. Let the running game and defense take care of the rest. This game is on Morelli's shoulders.

Prediction: Defense dominates for each team (surprised?) but Ohio State wins 13-10 in front of the raucous, white-clad fans in Beaver Stadium. Morelli throws 1 INT and is sacked three times. He does not perform well in the clutch.

Image taken from The Age of Reason

Statistics from the NCAA, ESPN, and Jeff Sagarin

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