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Robinson to pass torch to Morelli

| Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006

MIAMI -- Penn State passes the torch of offensive leadership from Michael Robinson to Anthony Morelli tonight.

There will be no official ceremony, nothing like the handing out of the ceremonial bowl of oranges to the winner of this 8 p.m. Orange Bowl contest at Dolphins Stadium, between No. 3 Penn State (10-1) and No. 22 Florida State (8-4).

But the changing of the guard behind center for Penn State is, regardless, a significant moment. When the final whistle sounds, Robinson's remarkable career, notable for this record-setting senior season, will be done. Standing in line as heir apparent is Morelli.

Morelli, a former prep All-America from Penn Hills, has bided his time for the opportunity that looms next season and beyond. The wait hasn't always been easy, but it is almost complete.

"It's tough to sit and watch. It's rough," the sophomore said. "But the team's doing well. We're winning, and that's all I can want."

Robinson is something of an expert at waiting. Earlier in his career, he bounced around from wide receiver to running back to quarterback, not lingering at any spot. It was not until this, his redshirt senior season, that he became a full-time starter at quarterback. He responded with 2,882 yards of total offense, breaking a Penn State single-season record. He was voted Big Ten Conference offensive player of the year by conference coaches, was picked the conference MVP by the Chicago Tribune, and came in fifth in Heisman Trophy voting.

"If only I had another season," a wistful Robinson had said near the end of the regular season.

Morelli, whose freshman season was largely wasted, who through two seasons has thrown just 33 passes in game action, takes heart from Robinson's delayed success.

"He only had one year and look what he accomplished," Morelli said. "I have two years, and I hope to do big things with that."

No less an observer than Robinson has said that Morelli has been scintillating in pre-bowl workouts. Others around the program also have remarked about his sharp practices.

"He's really surprised me down here," Robinson said. "He's really starting to see things a whole lot better. He's doing a great job."

"I've been doing good," Morelli allowed. "I'm picking up defenses and coverages a lot better.

"It's like they say, from high school to college, the game seems a lot faster. But it's slowing down now for me."

Morelli isn't sure whether he'll play tonight, or how much. He knows this is Robinson's curtain call. He also knows that the keys to the car next season are his, and that thought has him excited.

"We're losing some people, like Mike and on the offensive line, but we definitely have a lot of talent coming back," he said. "We have the young guys at wide receiver, and Mark Rubin will be back. We have some recruits. It's a great corps of receivers."

Who better to take advantage of them than a tall, talented quarterback whose arm strength draws raves• Morelli recalled while working with his dad during his high school years being able throw the ball nearly 80 yards on the fly.

Robinson, no slouch when it comes to arm strength, defers to Morelli.

"He has a big-league arm, I can tell you that. Go play catch with him, I hate warming up with him," Robinson said, the last having to do with painful hands from catching the throws. "He's a big-league guy. He's a classy guy. And I understand it's hard not getting as many games as he would like to. He was coming in so highly touted

"He's hung in there and he's getting better every day."

Robinson closes the door on his Penn State career tonight and opens it fully for Morelli.

Additional Information:

Details

No. 3 Penn State (10-1, Big Ten Champion) vs. No. 22 Florida State (8-4, ACC Champion)

Time: 8 p.m.

Site: Dolphins Stadium, Miami, Fla.

TV: ABC.

Radio: ESPN Radio.

Line: Penn State by 10.

Ross pick: Penn State 28, Florida State 17.

Three things Penn State needs to do to win:

1. Shake off the rust. Penn State's last game was Nov. 19. Florida State played Dec. 3.

2. Get the customary big game from Michael Robinson, passing and running. He's the straw that stirs this drink.

3. Pressure Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Weatherford, who threw 17 interceptions this season, including seven over the final three regular-season games, all losses.

Three things Penn State needs to avoid or it will lose:

1. Don't get into a shootout. Florida State is 202-1-1 under Bobby Bowden when scoring 30 or more points

2. Don't lose on special teams. Joe Paterno still laments a punt return that cost Penn State vs. Florida State in the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl. The Seminoles' Willie Reid returned a punt for a pivotal touchdown in the ACC title game win over Virginia Tech.

3. Don't get bored waiting for the game. Florida State routinely plays at night. Paterno was concerned about the wait for this game, although Penn State did well in prime-time games this season, at home with Ohio State and on the road at Illinois.

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