Countdown To Blue-White: Trace McSorley’s Similarities To Aaron Rodgers

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In comparison with short, mobile NFL quarterbacks in their first years as college starters, Trace McSorley in 2016 downright outperformed Russell Wilson and Andy Dalton and matched up nicely with Heisman winners Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel.

However, the most statistically analogous quarterback for McSorley’s style and limited body of work seems to be Aaron Rodgers, arguably the league’s best all-around signal-caller, in his first year at Cal.

Name Year Height/Weight Passing Yards Passing TDs QBR Rushing Yards Rushing TDs Wins
Trace McSorley 2016 6’1”, 201 lbs. 3,614 29 156.9 365 7 11
Aaron Rodgers 2003 6’2”, 195 lbs. 2,903 19 146.6 210 5 7
Russell Wilson 2008 5’11”, 206 lbs. 1,955 17 133.9 388 4 6
Andy Dalton 2007 6’2”, 215 lbs. 2,459 10 118.5 232 5 8
Marcus Mariota 2012 6’4”, 219 lbs. 2,677 32 163.2 752 5 12
Johnny Manziel 2012 5’11”, 210 lbs. 3,706 26 155 1,410 21 11
McSorley and mobile quarterbacks in their first season as college starters

In September, the only things that Rodgers and McSorley appeared to have in common were their position and diminutive heights. Still, even after McSorley’s historic first season under center for the Nittany Lions, one was known as a Super Bowl champion and the Discount Double Check poster boy while the other was regarded as a “product of a system” and clustered with the likes of Troy Smith, Vince Young, and Tim Tebow as successful college quarterbacks who wouldn’t translate well to the professional level.

In September, the only things that Rodgers and McSorley appeared to have in common were their position and diminutive heights. Still, even after McSorley’s historic first season under center for the Nittany Lions, one was known as a Super Bowl champion and the Discount Double Check poster boy while the other was regarded as a “product of a system” and clustered with the likes of Troy Smith, Vince Young, and Tim Tebow as successful college quarterbacks who wouldn’t translate well to the professional level.

In 2003, Rodgers’ first year playing for Cal, he threw for 19 touchdowns and 2,903 yards, giving the Golden Bears their best record in ten years. Last season, when McSorley took over at quarterback for Christian Hackenberg, he threw for 29 touchdowns and 3,614 yards as the Nittany Lions rolled to a Big Ten title, a Rose Bowl berth, and their best record since 2009.

Although Rodgers only started ten games in 2003 after taking the reins midway through the season, the two quarterbacks attempted a similar amount of throws, with the only significant difference coming from the extra game that McSorley played in, the Big Ten Championship game. If you remove that game, one of McSorley’s best performances all season-from his cumulative season stats, he would still have six more touchdowns and more than 300 more yards while attempting just seven more passes than Rodgers had in 2003, a year before the Packers selected him in the first round.

This deficit can be attributed to the talent that McSorley had around him, namely Saquon Barkley. Rodgers’ primary assets were Adimchinobe Echemandu and JJ Arrington, a pair of running backs who combined for 1,802 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground compared to the 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns that Barkley alone posted, not to mention his auxiliary contributions as a receiver.

While Rodgers was a bit more efficient (completing 61.6% of passes compared to 57.9%), both he and McSorley displayed great degrees of maturity as passers during their first seasons, with each having multiple long spans without throwing an interception. Rodgers threw 98 and 105 consecutive passes without a pick, while McSorley had streaks of 139 and 101 passes without one.

Alternatively, both also provided viable threat with their legs early on in their careers. Rodgers ran for five touchdowns and 210 yards on 86 carries (2.4 yards per gain) in 2003. Thirteen years later, McSorley posted similar stats by running for seven touchdowns and 365 yards on 146 carries (2.5 yards per gain) as part of an offense that outgained the 2003 Golden Bears by over 500 yards on the grounds.

They even both led their teams to headlining upsets as rookie signal-callers. Rodgers put the Golden Bears up 21-7 at halftime against eventual national champion Southern California before leaving with an injury. Although the game went to triple overtime, Cal managed to hold onto the lead that Rodgers forged for them with a 34-31 upset.

As for McSorley, you know how the story goes.

This is grasping at straws now, but both have iconic touchdown celebrations and even more ironically, both the 2003 Golden Bears’ and 2016 Nittany Lions bowl games were decided by the same score: 42-39, with Cal beating Virginia Tech in the Insight Bowl and Penn State falling to USC in the Rose Bowl…makes…you…think.

Beyond the raw statistics, the courses of both quarterbacks’ careers have followed similar paths.

The two quarterbacks are small for their position with Rodgers standing at 6’2”, 195 lbs. and McSorley listed as 6’1”, 201 lbs. Their small statures curbed their recruitment as both were modestly pursued out of high school. Rodgers only had a walk-on opportunity at Illinois and ultimately opted to play a year of JuCo football at Butte Community College before transferring to Cal. McSorley had more offers but was recruited as an athlete by essentially everyone except James Franklin, who he followed with his commitment from Vanderbilt to Penn State.

Rodgers’ and McSorley’s rises to fame from under-recruited prospects to championship-winning quarterbacks can partially be attributed to the big play ability that both possess. Whether it be Rodgers forcing overtime with a 41-yard touchdown heave to Jeff Janis to end regulation or McSorley throwing 40 and 70-yard touchdown passes to Saeed Blacknall on back to back plays, the Hail Mary — a play trademarked by fellow undersized quarterback Doug Flutie — has been a valuable tool for both players in clutch situations, where both thrive.

This isn’t to say that McSorley will one day hoist the Lombardi Trophy, hear his name called on Thursday night of the NFL Draft, or appear in a State Farm commercial. It’s just to point out where a big arm and a whole lot of moxie can take a quarterback who can run and lead, even when he is the smallest player on the field.

Photo By: Alex Bauer
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About Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci is Onward State’s Social Media Manager, a preferred walk-on honors student, and a sophomore majoring in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, don’t worry, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. Feel free to email him at [email protected] and follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter to hear the story or if you’re bored and enjoy bad jokes.

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