3:30 PM ET, September 2, 2006
Beaver Stadium, UNIVERSITY PARK, PA
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- On his first pass as Penn State's starting quarterback, Anthony Morelli showed coach Joe Paterno that his offense was in good hands.
The throw sailed through raindrops and over two defenders into the end zone. Morelli pumped his fist after wideout Deon Butler came down with a 42-yard touchdown pass to give Penn State a 7-0 lead.
The strong-armed junior threw for two more scores and 206 yards and No. 19 Penn State showed some different wrinkles on defense to defeat Akron 34-16 at rain-soaked Beaver Stadium.
Morelli, replacing last year's do-it-all leader, Michael Robinson, did make a few mistakes, including a third-quarter fumble. With a trip looming next week to No. 2 Notre Dame, Paterno offered cautious praise.
"I thought he started out well, did a good job, but overall he was fine," said Paterno, in his 41st season as head coach.
Akron coach J.D. Brookhart was a little more gracious.
"That kid can throw from one half to the other, 20 yards deep," Brookhart said. "You wont see a better arm this year."
Morelli also connected for TD passes with Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams for Penn State (1-0), delighting fans bundled up in rain slickers after the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto drenched Happy Valley.
Highly recruited coming out of high school, Morelli watched from the bench his first two seasons at Penn State. Robinson was instrumental in guiding Penn State's explosive offense last year. There were questions about how the Nittany Lions would look this year with a new leader and an offensive line featuring four new starters.
The running game struggled, and Tony Hunt, who ran for 1,000 yards last season, gained just 36 on the ground Saturday, though Hunt did have a late touchdown.
"I think they got their (butts) kicked in today," Paterno said about the offensive line "Simple as that."
But given time to throw, Morelli clicked with his talented receiving corps.
"He just kept a level head today," said Butler, who had two catches for 50 yards. "He never got nervous or mad when he came back to the huddle."
Trailing 17-3 at halftime, the Zips (0-1) gained some momentum after Penn State freshman A.J. Wallace fumbled the second-half kickoff at midfield.
Luke Getsy kept the ensuing drive alive by hitting Kris Kasparek for a 12-yard gain on fourth-and-7 from the Penn State 16. On the next play, Dennis Kennedy bowled over Justin King to get into the end zone for a 4-yard score -- but Matt Domonkos missed an extra point -- and Akron cut the deficit to 17-9.
Wallace redeemed himself on the next kickoff with a 54-yard sideline-to-sideline return to the Akron 40. Morelli found the sure-handed Norwood for a couple completions before connecting with Williams down the left sideline for 20 yards and a 24-9 lead.
Getsy finished 22-of-42 for 160 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, while Kennedy ran for 59 yards on 25 carries.
"We made too many mistakes to have a chance to win that football game," Brookhart said.
Penn State often employed three linemen and four linebackers on defense instead of the 4-3 scheme that worked well for Penn State last season.
Three linemen graduated off last year's starting line while Penn State is stocked at linebacker, including All-American Paul Posluszny, so the 3-4 look plays to the Nittany Lions' strength.
"We don't show that often," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "We wanted to set the tempo in the game."
Two third-quarter series typified Akron's frustrations. One drive stalled after Getsy, under pressure on third down in the backfield, found David Harvey for a 5-yard pass before he was immediately hit by Anthony Scirrotto.
Akron recovered a Morelli fumble at the Penn State 40 but the Zips again couldn't capitalize after linebacker Sean Lee stuffed Kennedy in the backfield. Josh Gaines and Jay Alford then sacked Getsy on third-and-14 as cheering fans jumped up and down, rocking creaky Beaver Stadium.
"Early we had to adjust to what they were doing, as the game went on I thought we got a little better," Getsy said about Penn State's 3-4 look.
Posluszny had seven tackles and looked good playing his first game since partially tearing two ligaments in his right knee in the Orange Bowl. Fellow linebackers Tim Shaw and Dan Connor each had two sacks.
Williams also impressed in his first outing since breaking his left arm last October against Michigan, catching three balls for 49 yards.
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... QB Anthony Morelli connected with Jordan Norwood to give the Nittany Lions a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.
Gameball goes to... Anthony Morelli. Without run support (80 yds), Penn State's QB went to the air. He tossed three TDs and picked up 208 yards in the win.
Stat of the game... 14: Penn State accrued just 14 first downs, yet generated 288 total yards and 34 points. Talk about efficient.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||5-18||7-15|
|4th Down Conversions||4-4||0-2|
|TD||10:02||DEON BUTLER 42 YD PASS FROM ANTHONY MORELLI (KEVIN KELLY KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 69 yards.
|FG||0:00||KEVIN KELLY 39 YD FG|
Drive info: 11 plays, 43 yards.
|TD||11:39||JORDAN NORWOOD 14 YD PASS FROM ANTHONY MORELLI (KEVIN KELLY KICK)|
Drive info: 4 plays, 62 yards.
|FG||3:34||MATT DOMONKOS 46 YD FG|
Drive info: 10 plays, 40 yards.
|TD||9:26||DENNIS KENNEDY 4 YD RUN (MISSED KICK)|
Drive info: 11 plays, 50 yards.
|TD||7:10||DERRICK WILLIAMS 20 YD PASS FROM ANTHONY MORELLI (KEVIN KELLY KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 40 yards.
|TD||9:18||TONY HUNT 5 YD RUN (KEVIN KELLY KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 30 yards.
|FG||6:35||KEVIN KELLY 42 YD FG|
Drive info: 4 plays, 8 yards.
|TD||2:45||DAVID HARVEY 27 YD PASS FROM LUKE GETSY (MATT DOMONKOS KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 65 yards.