MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Morley has seen a lot thrown his way in the first three games of his collegiate career.
The result has been an up and down start.
In the one NMU home win and two blowout losses on the road, Morley has thrown only one touchdown pass while turning the ball over eight times via five interceptions and three lost fumbles.
Northern Michigan University redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Morley tries to shake off a Wisconsin-La Crosse defender during a nonconference home game on Sept. 6 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. Morley and the Wildcats host Ashland at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Superior Dome for Homecoming. (Journal file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
With three nationally ranked teams and two more that received votes in this week's American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II poll on deck in the next five weeks, head coach Chris Ostrowsky recognizes the roller coaster will continue for his young QB.
"All the ups and downs are positives as long as we grow from them and learn from them," Ostrowsky said. "It becomes a negative if you make the same mistake over and over and over for three years."
Morley and the Wildcats will face their toughest test yet when No. 17 Ashland looks to spoil Northern's Homecoming celebration at 2 p.m. Saturday inside the Superior Dome.
Morley by the numbers:
- 47.6 completion percentage on 50-of-105
- 584 passing yards for 194.7 average per game
- 5 interceptions, 3 fumbles lost
- 1 touchdown
- 12-for-38 on third-down conversions, 2-for-4 on fourth down
- NCAA passer efficiency of 87.96, NFL QB
rating of 48.27
The Eagles, 3-0 atop the GLIAC South, have allowed an average of 15.3 points per game, second only to Michigan Tech.
"They are as good of a defense as we will face all year," Ostrowsky said of Ashland. "Our plan is simply to get the ball in and out of his hands."
A road trip to Hillsdale and a home date with Michigan Tech - both teams are unranked, but received votes - follows Saturday's date with Ashland. No. 4 Grand Valley State visits Marquette on Oct. 13 and the five-week gauntlet is capped by a trip to No. 21 Wayne State - last year's national runner-up - on Oct. 20.
"He's going to arguably see his freshman year the best Division II has to offer, so any success he can have in the next five weeks is phenomenal for his growth," Ostrowsky said about Morley, who is 50 of 105 passing for 584 yards.
"We have to work very, very hard to make sure we're not making the same mistake twice, understanding everything he's doing is for the very first time. We're going to make mistakes. We're going to look bad at times. I believe in him and he knows that."
One area Ostrowsky said he has been impressed with concerning Morley is on third down - which was a sore spot for former NMU head coach Bernie Anderson last season after converting only 33 percent of the time.
The Wildcats aren't any better as a team this season through three weeks at 27 percent, though Morley has produced a few clutch moments and has only been sacked twice on third down.
At Findlay in Week 1, Morley converted 5 of 14 third downs - one was wiped out via a fumble after a completed pass, however - and he extended another drive by completing a 7-yard pass to junior Christian Marble-King on fourth and 4.
Against Wisconsin-La Crosse in Week 2, Morley hit his longest pass of the season - 56 yards to Marble-King - on third and 11. The QB finished the night 5 of 12 on third downs, with a pass interference call aiding in extending one drive.
Week 3 was more of a struggle, however, at Ohio Dominican as Morley was only 2 of 12 with a fourth-down conversion extending one of those drives.
"Because he's so poised is why we are playing a freshman quarterback," Ostrowsky said. "If he was a nervous kid that had happy feet, we wouldn't play him. It wouldn't be beneficial for him or us."
Saturday's 47-7 loss by Northern at ODU was the ultimate roller coaster for Morley, as he threw his first touchdown pass and also turned the ball over five times via three interceptions and two lost fumbles.
Late in the third and early in the fourth quarters, Morley experienced all the highs and lows one can experience in three successive series.
On third and 4 from his own 41-yard line and Northern down 40-0, Morley fell short of the first down on a 2-yard run. On fourth and 2, he made up for it, however, with a 27-yard pass to Trever Kruzel that moved the sticks.
Morley lost a fumble while being sacked on the very next play, but senior defensive tackle Zach Anderson got Morley the ball back three plays later by returning an interception 22 yards to the ODU 23.
Four plays later, Morley threw his first career collegiate touchdown pass, hitting Christian Jessie from 9 yards out.
It wasn't the way Morley hoped to get that first TD pass, but he was happy to finally check that experience off his list of firsts as a freshman, he said.
"They are definitely showing me stuff I've never seen before," Morley said. "It's my job as a leader of the offense and quarterback of this team to be ready, so that's what I'm going to do.
"I'll be the first one to admit I can't play like that if I want to win. As the leader of the offense and struggling like I have been, I just have to get better every day."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.