The quarterback is plagued by maddening inconsistency despite having a fleet of talented receivers to throw to and a strong running game to help ease the pressure. He unexpectedly struggles against one of the supposedly inferior teams on the schedule and then lays an egg in his first big road test.
Fans wonder what's wrong with their highly touted quarterback, and the media tries to start a quarterback controversy by pointing out the virtues of the more mobile backup. Anthony Morelli, right? Wrong. Try Kerry Collins.
The name Kerry Collins conjures up images of perfectly thrown touchdown passes and an offense that put up staggering numbers in the minds of Penn State fans. What most fans don't remember is the way Collins began his career as the Penn State starter in 1993.
Collins was thrust into the starting role in late September 1993 after John Sacca left the team. His first game as the starter appeared to be a sign of great things to come. Collins connected on 18 of 25 passes for 222 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-7 victory over Rutgers.
His second start against an abysmal Maryland team, however, was a lackluster performance. Collins completed just nine of 19 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns in Penn State's 70-7 shellacking of the Terrapins.
Two weeks later, Collins faced his first real test against Michigan. The passing game sputtered, and the Lions lost 21-13. Collins threw a touchdown pass in the game, but he also ended Penn State's hopes of a comeback by throwing an interception at the Michigan 25-yard line late in the fourth quarter.
After another bye week, Collins and the Lions went on the road to face Ohio State the day before Halloween. Penn State couldn't get into an offensive rhythm in cold, damp weather, and the Buckeyes won 24-6 in a game that wasn't even that close. Collins' numbers were appropriately horrific, as he completed 13 of 39 passes for 122 yards and four costly interceptions.
Critics made Collins the focal point of their anger and disappointment. After all, he had Ki-Jana Carter, Mike Archie, Brian Milne and Jon Witman in the backfield carrying the offensive load and emerging stars Bobby Engram, Freddie Scott and Kyle Brady to throw to. How could he not succeed with those weapons at his disposal?
After leading the team to a comeback 38-31 victory over Indiana in which he tossed two touchdown passes, Collins responded to his critics, saying "I know [criticism] comes with the territory, but it's not an easy thing to sit back there [in the pocket], having people flying all around you. I don't think people understand that."
Things got worse before they got better however. Collins suffered through the worst performance of his career the next week in a 28-14 victory over Illinois, completing five of 18 passes for just 49 yards and three interceptions. Afterward, Collins said "I'm not losing confidence in myself, I still think I'm a good quarterback." Joe Paterno also came to his quarterback's defense, saying "I think Kerry's going to hang in there tough. I've got a lot of confidence in Kerry. He'll be fine."
He was more than fine. Collins threw for 792 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception in the team's final three games, all victories, including a 38-37 win in the regular season finale over Michigan State that saw Collins lead his team back from a 37-17 second half deficit and a surprising 31-13 pasting of heavily favored Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl.
Following the win over the Spartans, Bobby Engram confirmed what many fans were beginning to see. "[Kerry's] taken over the offense. It's his team, his ball club, when we come on the field. He's the man, and he knows that."
Fast-forward 13 years to 2006. Another highly touted quarterback is showing signs of inconsistency and fans are grumbling despite Paterno's proclamations that his quarterback will be fine. There's no guarantee that Anthony Morelli's story will have the same ending that Collins' did, but even if he plays poorly in Columbus this weekend, it's not time to panic.
Morelli is arguably the most talented quarterback ever to play for Paterno. While that talent is only showing up in spurts so far, there's a good chance that he will become comfortable in this offense. Once that happens, Morelli's confidence will rise along with his team's fortunes, leading fans to once again dream of the Penn State offense lighting up the scoreboard as it did in Collins' day.