SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Anthony Morelli has dodged a rush of reporters again.
The Penn State quarterback did not attend yesterday's Alamo Bowl news conference, leaving the offensive players who showed up with the task of explaining his whereabouts instead of talking about how the Nittany Lions plan to deal with Texas A&M on Saturday.
Because it has been 46 days since Morelli last met with the media - on Nov. 10, after Penn State beat Temple, 31-0 - the remaining Lions braced for the "Where's Anthony?" barrage.
"He's the senior quarterback, captain of the team," center A.Q. Shipley said. "The questions are going to be there."
Coach Joe Paterno is not scheduled to meet with reporters again until tomorrow. Offensive coordinator Galen Hall was left to answer why the starting quarterback, on the eve of his final collegiate game, was not made available to the press.
"I don't have any clue," Hall said.
Team spokesman Jeff Nelson said Morelli had told him he planned to attend earlier yesterday, then backed out without reason. Instead, Morelli visited Sea World with other teammates.
"He wanted to feed the fish," guard Rich Ohrnberger quipped.
Perhaps the embattled 22-year-old wanted to avoid the feeding frenzy. Morelli missed a conference call with reporters on Nov. 14, before the Michigan State game. After failing to lead the Lions to a last-minute win in the 35-31 defeat three days later, he skipped postgame interviews. Two weeks ago, he opted out of Penn State's Alamo Bowl media day in State College, Pa.
"I think it's to protect himself," wide receiver Derrick Williams said. "He just wants to go out there and have a good game and go out on top."
Hall was asked if Morelli's absence showed a lack of leadership.
"That's probably a good question that you [reporters] would have to answer," he answered. "You have your own opinion. We don't think so. He's been a leader for us."
A two-year starter, Morelli has a 17-8 record, including an Outback Bowl win over Tennessee last season. Based on that performance, senior-year expectations were high for the former five-star high school recruit. But after a 3-0 start, Penn State finished 5-4 as Morelli struggled in four losses that were either to marquee programs (Michigan and Ohio State) or in tight games (Illinois and Michigan State).
"Anthony Morelli has not lost a game for us," Hall said. "We've lost as a group. . . . He's had a bunch of pressure on him, and I think he's handled it very well."
According to Hall - a former Lions quarterback himself - Morelli will be remembered for leading Penn State to two bowl games and for becoming the first Lions quarterback to throw for more than 2,000 yards in two seasons.
He has accounted for 2,508 passing yards this season, tossing 18 touchdowns against nine interceptions. And because at times he has displayed that rocket right arm, there is still a good chance that he will be selected in the latter rounds of the NFL draft.
Morelli will have one more opportunity to impress scouts before the scouting combine. Anyone who had a glimmer of hope that Paterno would play backups Daryll Clark or Pat Devlin in the Alamo Bowl has not been watching Penn State football for the last 42 years.
Clark and Devlin have had their workloads increase during practices over the last month, but Morelli will start and likely finish. Clark was used briefly under center against Michigan State for several ill-advised plays that had Morelli split wide, but the Alamo Bowl is Morelli's to win or lose.
"We started early working with the younger players," Hall said, "but we're here to win a football game."
Clark has handled a few more repetitions than Devlin, but according to Paterno, the job will be up for grabs next season. Clark is a junior but is expected to earn a redshirt season if he completes his classes next semester. Devlin is a redshirt freshman out of Downingtown East. A two-quarterback system has been all but ruled out.
"Both of them can throw and both of them can run," Williams said. "So there's no need for a dual system."
One thing is for sure: With as many as 19 starters returning next season, the pressure to win could reach Morelli-like proportions.
"They'll have to grow up pretty quick," Hall said.