BY PAUL ASPAN
PENN ST. INSIDER
I was all ready to rip into Anthony Morelli and Austin Scott for their play during Penn State’s loss to Michigan, when I saw a clip of Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy’s press conference. Gundy lashed out at a reporter for a story she wrote criticizing Cowboy’s quarterback Bobby Reid for not being tough enough. For a second it made me step back and if nothing else – think twice about the nature of covering college athletes. On the one hand, no they’re not getting paid, they have to balance class and practice, a lot of them are good kids, and the nature of the criticism they endure might not always be fair. On the other hand, they embrace the media spotlight when they perform well, they get preferential treatment, and let’s face it, it’s kind of tough to feel sorry for guys that have girls throwing themselves at them on a nightly basis. They don’t even have to be good. I watched it at Syracuse for the last four years.
On to the Penn State loss to Michigan….
Anthony Morelli didn’t exactly instill confidence in the Penn State faithful before the Michigan game, but afterwards, let’s just say I don’t think he received a hero’s welcome on his return to Happy Valley. The Nittany Lion quarterback was 15/31 for 169 yards, no touchdowns and a huge fumble on the day. The key for the Wolverines coming in was to jump on Penn State early, as the Lions offense has struggled to get going in its last few games. The Maize and Blue parlayed Morelli’s first quarter fumble into an early touchdown and the Lions had to play catch-up the rest of the way. This allowed Michigan to grind it out with their All-American tailback Mike Hart.
It was a battle on the ground between the Lion’s nation-best rushing defense and the third best rusher in the nation. Often it seemed like it was All American PSU linebacker Dan Connor vs. Hart – as the two met repeatedly. In fact, Paul Maguire wouldn’t shut up about it. Especially with freshman quarterback Ryan Mallet under center, Hart was going to get his carries – 44 of them to be exact – so he was going to get his yards – 153, and eventually a one yard TD run. Ironically enough, it was a heads-up Mallet run that put Michigan on the board first.
Coming into the game – especially after that early Michigan score – if you had told me the Wolverines were only going to score 14 points, I absolutely would have picked Penn State. There is no question that the Penn State defense played well enough to win. To be perfectly honest with you, I expected something like 17-14 or 21-14 PSU.
Morelli didn’t play well, but he didn’t get much help from his running backs either. Scott chose an awful time for his fourth fumble in the last three games – this one at the Michigan nine-yard line in the third quarter. The Lions got the ball back at the Wolverine 35-yard line a few plays later, after a Mallet fumble, but they had to settle for a field goal to cut the lead to 7-6. Scott finished with 35 yards on nine carries, and backfield mate Rodney Kinlaw ran for 69 yards on 12 carries. Kinlaw, Morelli, and Scott are all seniors, but the latter two have not been the leaders on offense that one might expect. Scott’s inability to hold on to the ball speaks for itself, and do you think Penn State fans had any hope with Morelli under center for that last drive – not even drive, last series – for the Lions? He didn’t even give them a chance to get excited as he threw the ball away on the first two plays, and almost threw interceptions on the final two.
Penn State’s national title hopes (yea, yea they were a bit overrated) are gone, but they still have the chance to have a very good season. With upcoming match-ups against Illinois and Iowa in the next few weeks, the Lions defense should be able to carry them to a couple wins. But, they’re going to lose AT LEAST one more game if they don’t change something with the offense. It’s time to give Kinlaw the full workload, and for the Lions to see if there is a better option at quarterback.
Defense wins championships, but they need to have a lead.