Trace McSorley said the two quarterbacks he watched most growing up were Drew Brees and Michael Vick.
Brees and McSorley actually have a lot in common when it comes to their college careers. Both were named captains as juniors. Both are unassuming 6-footers who just know how to win, including over Ohio State.
After playing sparsely as a freshman at Purdue, Brees went on an absolute tear his first two seasons as the starter, tossing 64 touchdowns while adding back-to-back 3,900-yard passing campaigns. He could have left early for the 2000 NFL Draft, but instead decided to finish his degree and give a title run one last shot.
The spread offense was seen as rather unorthodox during Brees’ days in West Lafayette, but the Austin, TX, native excelled in Jim Chaney’s system, leading the Boilermakers to (you guessed it) a share of the Big Ten championship as a senior and a berth in the 2001 Rose Bowl.
Entering his 17th season in the NFL, Brees has made 10 Pro Bowls and was named Super Bowl XLIV MVP. He hopes to take the New Orleans Saints back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Barring a Heisman performance this season, McSorley will likely return to Penn State for his final year of eligibility. Recently surpassing the 4,000 career passing yards mark, McSorley has a legitimate chance to chase down Brees’ Big Ten record of 11,792 before his time is up in State College.
While he lacks the pro fanfare of guys like Wyoming’s Josh Allen and USC’s Sam Darnold, McSorley is the prototypical spread era quarterback. His offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead, knew exactly what could be accomplished with this level of talent at Penn State. That’s why he took the job.
“That’s something that Coach Moorhead kind of says. He expects that kind of success, that we can go out and score on every drive, and the only people who can stop us are us,” McSorley said Tuesday.
“He’s the best coordinator I’ve ever been around,” McSorley said. “As far his offensive mind, it’s incredible the type of things that he draws up on a daily basis. Obviously it meant a lot to me as a quarterback to have him go to bat for me.”
McSorley is of course referencing the now-famous comment Moorhead made at media day in August. Penn State’s second-year play caller said the knock against McSorley that he simply chucks 50-50 balls deep as “ridiculous at best and, quite frankly, asinine at worst.”
It’s easy to take those comments personally when your offense has scored 35-plus points in each of the last eight games — the Power Five’s longest active streak.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this,” Moorhead said. “A kid couldn’t lead the league in multiple passing categories and set school single-season records and be on the verge of multiple other school records if he was just throwing the ball indiscriminately down the field.”
McSorley has organized Monday afternoon film sessions with the rest of the offense since last season, making sure the Nittany Lions put that 33 percent conversion rate on third downs in 2016 behind them.
Individually, McSorley spent extra hours “throwing in footwork” this summer and honing his already lethal downfield vision. In June, he served as a counselor at the Elite 11 quarterback competition in California. You can check out his simulated pro day in front of the campers here.
With each hitch in his dropback, McSorley’s eyes are scanning through his first few progressions. On the rare occasion his receivers were covered against Akron, McSorley was lot better about sliding out of trouble.
“Our offense is designed to stretch defenses horizontally and vertically and create mismatches by a number of personnel,” Moorhead said. “So the things that we did throwing the ball down the field, they didn’t happen by chance, they happened by choice.”
McSorley’s mom, Andrea, makes sure the offensive line is stocked with snacks on game weekends, both home and away. Her son wasn’t sacked once against the Zips.
Are the cupcakes and donuts doing the trick? They certainly can’t hurt.
McSorley’s goal of maintaining a 65 percent completion rate — seven points higher than last season — is off to a strong start. He finished 18-25 passing for 280 yards and two touchdowns in week one.
Right now, he and his teammates are focused on starting fast Saturday afternoon against Pitt in front of a raucous (and potentially white-clad) crowd.