MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Morley got all the protection he needed in his college debut last week at Findlay.
He got plenty of run support on the ground, plus a fair amount of chances to take to the air with his team trailing by a wide margin the entire second half.
The result was Morley leading the offense on sustained drives of 57, 47, 48, 34, 59, 58 and 39 yards.
Northern Michigan University redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Morley throws during a preseason practice inside the Superior Dome in August. Morley finished 22 of 44 for 235 yards passing with an interception and fumble in his collegiate debut at Findlay. (Journal file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Only two of those drives resulted in points, however, and only one went for a touchdown.
"We moved the ball every drive except one the whole game, so offensively, we did great things, but we can do better on a lot of things too," Morley said.
"We can't stall out four times like we did in the red zone. Whether it's kicking the field goal or putting it in the end zone, we have to put some points on the board."
Morley finished 22 of 44 for 235 yards passing, an interception and fumble. His long pass of the night went 71 yards to senior running back Prince Young. He also connected with freshman running back Keon Collier on a 24-yard pass play and junior wideout Julian Gaines on a 21-yard toss and catch.
What Morley didn't do was throw his first touchdown pass as a Wildcat with Young trotting in the 'Cats lone score.
Morley had plenty of chances, but watched two drives to the Findlay 11- and 24-yard line end in missed field goals - including a 12-play, 57-yard campaign that ate up 5 minutes, 14 seconds on the clock. A 13-play, 59-yard drive that took 3:55 did result in a late field goal.
His other trip to the Oiler red zone - a five-play, 58-yard drive to the Findlay 12 - ended with a turnover on downs.
"I thought he was outstanding the first time out," NMU head coach Chris Ostrowsky said. "I thought he showed poise, had a good understanding of what we were trying to accomplish from down to down. Overall, he was certainly far from perfect, but I thought he was pretty good."
Ostrowsky said he didn't intend to have Morley throw the ball 44 times in his first collegiate start, but the redshirt freshman executed well thanks to solid protection from the offensive line and Morley's ability to get the ball out of his hand quickly.
The offensive line didn't give up a single sack, Findlay was only credited with hurrying the QB once and the NMU rushing attack finished with a net of 155 yards - 93 for Young and 75 for Collier.
"I studied my butt off and so did Coach O and all the wide receivers," Morley said. "I think we did a great job picking up their blitzes. They weren't able to get to me. I think I only got hit maybe less than five times. My offensive line did a great job."
While unacceptable, both of Morley's turnovers are easily correctable mistakes, Ostrowsky said.
Morley's fumble at the NMU 11 on his second drive of the game resulted from a collision between him and Young.
His interception that ended a five-play, 34-yard drive at the Findlay 48 came on a wrong route by freshman wideout Sterlin Darling on a rocket screen. Instead of cutting back immediately for the ball, Darling ran straight ahead in the opposite direction of the quick pass.
"Both weren't caused turnovers," Ostrowsky said. "We didn't read cover two when it was actually cover three or we made a bad decision or had a scramble and the ball was knocked out from behind. They were simple rep mistakes. We have to get better. We can't make those mistakes."
Morley will make his second career start and first at the Superior Dome at 7 p.m. Thursday against Wisconsin-La Crosse, which plays in the NCAA Division III Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference - home of the three-time defending Division III champion UW-Whitewater.
The Eagles gave up 397 yards in a Week 1 win over fellow Division III member North Central College (Ill.), with 190 yards coming through the air. UWL did nab three interceptions and only one TD pass, a 13-yarder in the first quarter.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.