No Move The Right Move

Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno was wise not to yank Michael Robinson when the quarterback struggled early against Cincinnati Saturday. The fifth-year senior gives the team the best chance for success later in the season.

Already this season, there have been a number of opportunities for Joe Paterno to turn to backup quarterback Anthony Morelli.

Saturday afternoon in the first half against Cincinnati, with the boos directed at starter Michael Robinson cascading down from the Beaver Stadium bleachers, was one of them.

The Nittany Lions eventually won the game, 42-24.

But for longer than the 98,727 on hand felt was reasonable, Penn State was locked in another tougher-than-expected battle with an undermanned team for one reason — because Robinson was misfiring passes.

Penn State's defense and special teams were more than holding up their part, and the Lions' running game was functioning decently.

Even the Nits' maligned offensive line was providing adequate protection.

This game was close only because Robinson threw a first-down interception for the second straight week, that he couldn't hit an open Derrick Williams streaking to the end zone, that he was too high or too low.

Plus he fumbled after his third-quarter scramble made a first down.

Asked if he got the idea the crowd was getting antsy, Robinson smiled.

“I sensed that,” he said. “But I understand: It's about time we got it going.”

Although he went into the game looking for the right time to play Morelli, Paterno stuck with Robinson, and the decision paid off handsomely. Robinson found his rhythm, particularly on the deep throw, wound up throwing for 220 yards, and the Lion offense finally hit its stride.

Though he often has a quick hook when other position players struggle to make routine plays, Paterno handles his quarterbacks with much more patience.

Even Morelli, who played during the last 7:41, completing 4 of 5 for 25 yards and scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run, can appreciate that.

“Michael's the starter, and you don't want him to be looking over his shoulder every time he makes a mistake,” Morelli said. “If I get in there and something [bad] happens to me, at least I know he's not going to yank me on my first mistake. That's a good thing for a quarterback.”

While Paterno claimed “it wasn't a question of having anybody [Robinson] work through anything — I wanted to win the game,” the seeds of a PSU quarterback controversy never need much water.

Paterno's posture sometimes even fuels such sentiment,

But it's more likely in this case he feels Robinson, a popular fifth-year senior, gives the Lions a better chance for their best season possible than does Morelli, under whom the Lions would enter yet another transition.

“I didn't want Mike to get disappointed,” Paterno said. “He just needed to hit a couple. He'll be fine. And I wanted to put Anthony in a position to succeed, and I thought he did well. Now he's in a position to play more.”

Robinson feels he's been stereotyped, not without some just cause, as a run-first quarterback. To that end, Saturday provided some vindication and some hope that now that the Lions have assembled some weapons around him, Robinson is better than he showed in a shaky season-opening debut against South Florida.

“People finally got a chance to see I could throw the ball a little bit,” he said.

And they enjoyed seeing receivers who can catch it a lot. Derrick Williams always seems to be open — often behind the secondary. Justin King has quickly shown a knack for making big plays and Deon Butler was an excellent complement on Saturday.

Robinson thinks the combination made Cincinnati respect the pass, something Big Ten teams haven't done for several years.

“Once we hit a couple deep, they stopped blitzing,” he said. “Hopefully, this will back some teams up so we can get the running game going.”

State's longest pass play of 2004 was a 49-yarder: Robinson caught it from Zack Mills. On Saturday, the Lions had two touchdown passes of 45-plus yards and a 41-yarder that set up another score.

“Last year,” Robinson said, “I was the only one going deep. Now, we have four guys who can.”

The combination gave Penn State some quick-strike capability, but it also helped lose the time of possession, 35:08-24:52, as Cincinnati ran off 83 plays or 24 more than PSU.

“It seemed like they ran a lot of plays because we would get the ball and get a big play and give it right back,” Paterno said. “It was like in 1994 when [former defensive coordinator Jerry] Sandusky would come over to me and say, 'please don't score in a hurry; we are tired.' ”

The coach drew a comparison to the Lions' last great season, but Robinson doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself.

“We haven't been 2-0 in a long time,” he said. “But we didn't win the Rose Bowl [today]. It was just one game.”

It was, nonetheless, a game that may have provided a welcome glimpse of what's in store for 2005.

FOS contributor Neil Rudel covers Penn State football for the Altoona Mirror.

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