Penn State football is set to take on the 2023 season with high expectations and a roster that boasts a strong backfield and one of the best offensive lines in recent years under James Franklin’s leadership. Of course, what much of the fanbase is anticipating is the new starting quarterback, Drew Allar, who replaces the venerable but often criticized 5-year starter, Sean Clifford.
Given Penn State’s mixed results with such highly-touted high school 5-star quarterbacks, as seen with Anthony Morelli and Christian Hackenberg who struggled to live up to the hype on the field, is there cause for concern among the Nittany faithful? In this article, we will examine the past struggles of these quarterbacks and why Drew Allar’s unique skillset and situation make him a strong contender for success at Penn State, despite the potential for skepticism from fans.
As one of the most highly-touted recruits in the history of Penn State football, Anthony Morelli came to Happy Valley with sky-high expectations. A 5-star prospect out of Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he was supposed to be the quarterback who would lead the Nittany Lions back to the top of the college football world. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way, and Morelli’s career at Penn State was marked by disappointment and frustration.
To be fair, Morelli had some early success at Penn State. After redshirting his first year in 2004, he saw limited action in 2005 as the backup quarterback to senior Michael Robinson. While he did not start any games that year, he did show promise in his playing time. In 2006, he was named the starter and had a decent season, throwing for over 2,400 yards and 11 touchdowns but struggled with his completion percentage, connecting on 53.9% of his passes. He also led the Nittany Lions to a victory over Tennessee in the Outback Bowl, a game in which he threw for 197 yards and one touchdown.
But after that decent start, Morelli’s career at Penn State never blossomed into what many thought it would have. In his second year as the starting QB, while his completion percentage was raised, it still was no where near the level of the elite QB that he was heralded as being. The Lions finished with a disappointing 9-4 record.
In many ways, Morelli’s struggles at Penn State were a microcosm of the team’s struggles during that era. After decades of dominance under Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions were suddenly mired in mediocrity, unable to compete with the elite programs in the country. And while there were certainly other factors that contributed to this decline, Morelli’s inability to live up to his lofty expectations was part of the problem.
So what went wrong for Morelli at Penn State? Several factors likely contributed to his struggles. For one thing, he was playing behind a mediocre offensive line, which made it difficult for him to consistently make plays down the field. He also had a tendency to force the ball into tight windows, which led to a high number of interceptions. And perhaps most importantly, he lacked the kind of leadership and poise that you want to see from a quarterback.
Of course, it’s always easy to play the “what if” game with college football players. What if Morelli had played behind a better offensive line? What if he had had more time to develop his skills? What if he had been surrounded by better talent at the skill positions? But the reality is that Morelli never lived up to his potential at Penn State, and his disappointing career will always be remembered as one of the biggest recruiting busts in program history.
In conclusion, Anthony Morelli’s disappointing career at Penn State is a reminder of just how difficult it can be to live up to the expectations that come with being a highly-touted recruit. While he had some early success with the Nittany Lions, he ultimately fell far short of the lofty expectations that were placed on him. And while there were certainly other factors that contributed to Penn State’s struggles during that era, Morelli’s inability to live up to his potential was a significant part of the problem.