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Onward Debates: Evaluating Trace McSorley

Whether you loved him or hated him as Penn State’s quarterback, Christian Hackenberg has moved on to the NFL. This move allowed redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley to assume the starting role after a fierce quarterback battle with Tommy Stevens.

After three games, Penn State is 2-1 and the offense has shown improvement from last year in some aspects. However, the transition hasn’t been perfect. Here’s the big question: Do you feel comfortable with McSorley at quarterback?

Mitch Stewart: Absolutely

Trace McSorley’s successes and struggles have been well-documented during his first three weeks as the team’s signal-caller. However, I believe that there has been a considerable amount of success with each passing week.

Against Kent State, McSorley barely completed half of his passes, fumbled the ball once, and didn’t have a clean game overall.

The following week against Pitt, he was just moments away from leading one of the most incredible comebacks in school history. Then, McSorley was intercepted in the endzone on a risky deep pass that James Franklin and Joe Moorhead both took the blame for. Trace struggled with ball security all game, fumbling the ball four times.

But when Penn State needed a leader to step up and make plays facing a 28-7 deficit in the second quarter, McSorley was the guy. He made clutch throw after clutch throw to put the Nittany Lions in a position to win, and even threw a perfect pass to DaeSean Hamilton that likely would’ve sealed the game if Hamilton hadn’t uncharacteristically dropped the pass. It was a roller-coaster ride of a game for sure, but it was a coming of age moment for McSorley.

This past week against Temple, McSorley completed a whopping 75 percent of his passes, threw and ran for a touchdown, and recovered three fumbles on horrible snaps that shouldn’t have even been credited to him. He threw one interception, an awful throw in the third quarter, but his overall poise and demeanor on every other play during the game is what ultimately gave Penn State the win. In past years, 27 points by the opposition would’ve beaten the Lions. In fact, Temple actually scored 28 when it defeated the Christian Hackenberg-led Nittany Lions just last season.

McSorley has led the offense to 33 or more points in each game this season, is ranked in the top-20 nationally in passing yards per game and the top-30 nationally in completion percentage, and has made a lot of under the radar plays to overcompensate for mistakes in play-calling, bad snaps, or his receivers not getting open.

No, it hasn’t always been pretty, but Trace McSorley is making progress as a quarterback and a leader, and I think it is pretty obvious he has the complete faith of his team behind him. With a big game upcoming at fourth-ranked Michigan this weekend, McSorley will have yet another chance to prove himself to his team, the fans, and the entire country. Now is as good of a time as ever to jump on the Trace McSorley bandwagon.

Robbie Rockwell: Not Yet

Don’t get me wrong, McSorley has been good enough up to this point and he’s been getting the job done, but he’s also had plenty of mistakes. He may change my mind in the future and make me look like an idiot, but for now I’m not comfortable with him as Penn State’s quarterback.

I have always been nervous of McSorley’s play at quarterback, so it will have to take a lot to convince me going forward. Most people were impressed by his performance against Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl in January and confident in him going forward. However, after the game, I thought the exact opposite. From that game, I saw a lot of passes to feet, near interceptions, and ducks…lots of ducks. Looking at the two touchdowns he threw, I thought the wide receivers bailed him out with some fantastic catches on balls that probably shouldn’t have been thrown. If you actually look at DaeSean Hamilton’s touchdown in that game, you see he threw into triple coverage while Godwin was wide open on the left side.

When he was named the starter this summer, I was disappointed. I was more confident in Tommy Stevens who is much taller (four inches) and has better arm strength. I felt he was more suited for the position than six-foot McSorley, but it appeared Franklin had complete confidence in the redshirt sophomore.

During Kent State, it seemed my doubts became true. McSorley threw for only 209 yards on 31 attempts with a 50 percent completion rate. His longest pass on the day was 43 yards, and it seemed he wasn’t allowed to throw the ball deep after Kent State stacked the box limiting our running game. This made me question his arm strength. He also fumbled twice this game but in his defense one was mostly on the offensive line. McSorley also ran the ball 14 times, which made me question his throwing skill even more.

After Pitt, I was much more confident in him as a quarterback, but still concerned in his play and decision making. McSorley had a day throwing the ball for over 330 yards so I quickly shut up about his arm strength. However, I believe he could have won us that game (or at least sent it to overtime) if he made a different decision. On the final play, Mike Gesicki was wide open initially, and if No. 9 threw the ball early, Gesicki likely would’ve gotten it to the ten yard line. McSorely failed to see the two safeties deep and threw into double coverage, getting picked off to end the game.

He also fumbled the ball four times, one of which was because he messed up the hand off to Saquon Barkley on the read option. McSorley proved he could be a great fit, but he also showed me he’s struggled with good decision making and ball security. Both are essential to winning football games.

After seeing him at Pitt, I expected him to throw the ball often and do so with precision against Temple. For the most part he did. Like Mitch said, he had a 75 percent completion percentage, but there was definitely still room for improvement. His lone interception on the day came when the targeted receiver was wide open and he threw it right to Temple’s defensive back. He wasn’t pressured and had plenty of time to make the throw.

Besides ball security, another thing that worries me about McSorley’s play is his lack of hesitation to run. Oftentimes, he takes off for a three yard scramble and takes a big hit. This was a common theme in Kent State and there were often some receivers open. Of course, there’s no way he’ll make the right decision every time, but I feel that he’s putting his body on the line, and more often than not it’s not worth it. Against Temple there was a third down early in the fourth quarter where he decided he was going to run up the middle merely seconds after the ball was snapped. There was no room whatsoever up the middle and Penn State had to settle for a field goal.

Let me be clear, I don’t hate McSorley. I’m very excited to see what he does going forward, he could be the quarterback of the future. He has made some great plays this season and has proven me wrong multiple times, but I’m still not 100 percent comfortable with him at quarterback because of turnovers and bad decisions. I hope he proves me wrong again against Michigan on Saturday.

Where do you stand on McSorley’s play so far? Let us know in the comments!

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