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Northern Michigan, Ostrowsky right to stick with redshirt freshman QB Ryan Morley

Wildcats can’t play musical QBs

September 21, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

During my Wednesday Sports Pen appearance on radio station ESPN 970 AM, host Casey Ford threw out a question - playing devil's advocate - while discussing the difficult start for the Northern Michigan University football team.

The question stemmed from the overreaction of one fan on Facebook following the Wildcats' 47-7 loss at Ohio Dominican last Saturday.

Should the Wildcats bench redshirt freshman Ryan Morley in favor of senior Cody Scepaniak three games into the season?

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Based on the statistics, the answer is a no-brainer. Yes.

Based on the circumstances, however, the answer is an obvious no.

In his first three collegiate starts, Morley has put up some cringing numbers.

He has only completed 47.6 percent of his pass attempts, is averaging a mediocre 194.7 yards per game, has turned the ball over eight times via five interceptions and three fumbles, and has one touchdown pass, scored last week with the team down 40-0 already.

Using the NCAA's formula for passing efficiency, Morley scores an 87.96 on the scale of minus-731.6 (every pass attempt is completed for a 99-yard loss) to 1,261.6 (every pass is completed for a 99-yard gain).

When judging Morley with the NFL's even more confusing quarterback rating formula, he scores a 48.27 out of 158.3.

In comparison, Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning scored a 58.5 rating on Monday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons after throwing three first-quarter interceptions.

Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler scored a 28.2 just for being Jay Cutler against the Green Bay Packers on the NFL Network during Week 2.

While significant, statistics don't tell the whole story.

The old-fashioned eye test, however, gives us some great insight into the potential of young Mr. Morley.

Despite being only three games into his collegiate playing career, Morley has shown a tremendous amount of poise in the pocket.

Unlike 2011 senior QB Carter Kopach, Morley doesn't tuck and run at the first sign of trouble. But he's not a stiff in the pocket, either. He has only been sacked five times, a credit to the offensive line.

Third down is where Morley is at his best, despite facing plenty more third and longs than third and short.

Of his 12 third-down conversions, seven have been on third and more than 7 yards. He's converted five plays on third and 10-plus yards.

The five interceptions may suggest a lack of discipline or accuracy by Morley, but it's quite the opposite. Morley's picked-off passes have often been the result of misread coverages as defenses throw disguises he's never seen.

Those are correctable mistakes for a quarterback that fade over time. What's not correctable are the forced passes into triple coverage, made famous by a certain No. 4.

Then there's the crap Cutler throws up on a weekly basis. I'm not sure how to describe that - winging it, maybe? - but I can tell you that's not Morley's kind of ball.

I have no doubt that NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky, his coaching staff, the team and university officials will be patient with Morley's development.

I plan to let the entire season play out before making any significant judgments. I hope fans do the same.

If Morley's interception-to-touchdown ratio is still 5-1, his completion percentage is under 50 percent and his QB rating rivals Cutler's by the end of the season, then I'm more than open to seeing true freshmen Chris Nelson and Jay Tollefson challenge Morley next spring for a shot at the starting role.

Until then, benching Morley and starting Scepaniak would be a huge step backward for the Wildcats' football program. It's a move that would only bring minimal short-term success and set the program back yet again by jeopardizing the future.

Scepaniak is a quality QB who may be the best insurance policy in the GLIAC. But he's not the future of the program and he's not going to do any better under center with a defense giving up 40-plus points a game.

So settle down. Close Tweetdeck. Log off Facebook. Step away from your keyboard.

Go take a walk. Eat a burrito. Show some patience.

Three games is hardly enough time to judge a quarterback. Come talk to me after Game 11.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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