The Nittany Lions wrapped up spring drills with an encouraging if not spectacular exhibition. The starter-laden Blue team built a 14-6 lead over the White and held on for the victory, a task that became easier when the rainy, windy weather prompted university officials to cancel the fourth quarter.
Before the skies opened up, the afternoon offered evidence that Joe Paterno's optimistic pregame talk may not have been entirely misplaced.
We're not thinking about just being a competitive team, the coach said. We're thinking about being where Penn State was used to being until the past couple of years. In order to do that, we've got to do some things better. The biggest thing that we got out of spring practice is that we had a lot of kids who wanted to be good and are going to be good. There are some areas where we are really good.
Was quarterback one of those areas? Penn State's hopes in that department are pinned on Robinson, a fifth-year senior who is all but certain to be the full-time starter. Working with the first-team offense and buoyed by the presence of newcomers Derrick Williams and Justin King, the veteran quarterback looked sharp in limited action. He completed each of his six passes and led the Blue to a pair of first-quarter touchdowns. On the second drive, he completed consecutive passes to King and Williams to move the Blue to the White's 5-yard line. Tony Hunt scored on the next play.
Later in the first quarter, Robinson was replaced by Anthony Morelli, the subject of an impromptu trade after starting the game for the White. Displaying the urgency with which players treated the game, Robinson retreated to the railing behind the Penn State bench to sign autographs. He finished with 143 yards on his six completions and added 23 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Today was kind of easy, Robinson said. I knew what kind of defense they were going to be in. It was kind of cheating a little bit. But that's what this game is for. People didn't want to see the defense beat up on us all the time. They wanted to see some points scored, they wanted to see Derrick, they wanted to see Justin.
Morelli's afternoon was somewhat more difficult. Playing against Penn State's first-team defense to start the game, he completed 5 of 13 passes for 58 yards and was intercepted once.
I really wasn't happy with it, the sophomore said of his performance. I did OK, completed some little passes. I would have liked to have completed some more passes down the field. It's just something I have to work on, get on the same page with the receivers and kick it into gear.
Morelli showed off his marvelous arm on a deep pass to Ethan Kilmer in the first quarter. Rolling left, Morelli threw to Kilmer on the right sideline. The pass carried Kilmer out of bounds, but the crowd of 42,000 let out a gasp as the spiral began its downward arc.
Morelli had a less impressive moment on the next play when he threw short into triple coverage and was intercepted by safety Jason Ganter.
Morelli said he still believes he can challenge Robinson for the starting position. It would be an upset, as Paterno typically favors his upperclassmen. But the coach lauded Morelli's performance in the spring and disputed reports that the young quarterback has been slow to pick up Penn State's offense.
Morelli disputed them, too.
I don't know where that started, he said. I'm out there doing the same things as all the other quarterbacks. Mike might be a little bit ahead of me because he's been here for a while playing big-time football. But I'm going to pick it up.
King played both ways for the Blue, possibly foreshadowing his freshman season. He caught a short pass from Robinson on the game's first play and turned upfield for a 35-yard gain - exactly the kind of play Penn State has failed to execute the past two seasons. He went on to finish with 53 yards on two catches and also had a 13-yard gain on a reverse. He broke up two passes playing at cornerback.
Williams had his moments as well, including an eye-opener in which he lined up at quarterback and gained 9 yards on a draw play. The consensus prep All-American caught a 9-yard pass from Robinson on the game's second play and finished with four receptions for 64 yards.
It was apparent that King and Williams were responsible for the buzz surrounding the spring game. School officials tried to make the event more family friendly by staging a carnival in the parking lot. But the game itself was for the hardcore fans, and more than a few stayed in the stadium even after the rain and wind picked up in the third quarter.
Their presence illustrated the excitement King and Williams evoked by enrolling at Penn State for the spring semester, just in time to take part in spring practice. In the past, Paterno tried to stifle interest in his freshman class. But he said this year's newcomers are uniquely prepared for the scrutiny they have already begun to receive.
They're both very mature kids who aren't unexposed to pressure, he said. They had a lot of people interested in them in high school, and nowadays with the recruiting situation the way it is with all the media people involved in it, they've had a lot of experience dealing with that part of it. They're not a pair of kids who came in here thinking they were going to change the world, but they do want to make a difference.