Trace McSorley Could Enter The Pantheon Of Penn State Greats
Undersized. Game-manager. Weak arm strength. Can’t make the right choice on the read option. Too turnover prone. Too inexperienced. Not ready to be the guy yet.
These are all things that many people said throughout the month of September about McSorley’s readiness for the title of “Penn State starting quarterback.” To be fair, they had tangible reasons to voice displeasure. Despite a valiant, gut-wrenching effort in a loss to Pittsburgh in week two, the truth was that Penn State was turning the ball over far too often. The comments continued to pour in after the blowout loss to Michigan two weeks later in Ann Arbor, and it was obvious fans were getting a bit restless. The irritation could be heard loud and clear in Beaver Stadium during the first half of Penn State’s matchup with Minnesota in early October — and the doubters backed it with factual reasons.
However, something finally clicked in the second half of that Minnesota game for McSorley. The comeback victory breathed life into the Nittany Lions and developed into a nine-game winning streak, a conference championship, and a plane ride away from a trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Regardless of the fanbase’s past, present, or future opinions on McSorley, none of this success would’ve materialized if the redshirt sophomore wasn’t leading the offense.
The sophomore signal-caller’s confidence, guts, and eventual grasp of Joe Moorhead’s offense resulted in the eye-popping numbers the offense produced. Whether that means trusting McSorley to finally make the correct read in the option game, fling a ball downfield to his trusted corps of receivers, scramble and extend plays, or just minimize mistakes by throwing the ball away, his rise over the past two months has taken Penn State from a solid Big ten team that’s one or two seasons away from contention to being ranked in the top five.
The key to achieving the success the Nittany Lions have had in 2016 isn’t falling back on one player — it’s maximizing his strengths and putting the pieces around him. Players like Saquon Barkley, Chris Godwin, or Mike Gesicki gave the Lions a new offensive identity with their stellar play compared to last season’s unit. The unproven players rising to the occasion — much like Irvin Charles and DeAndre Thompkins have throughout the year — are equally important. What’s changed this year is how the unit gelled — and much of that starts with the quarterback.
What’s more exciting is that McSorley still has two years of eligibility left, as do Barkley and Thompkins (Charles, Miles Sanders, and Andre Robinson all have three years remaining). Godwin, Gesicki, and DaeSean Hamilton also have a year left, meaning the offense has a chance to build on the strong foundation it’s created. Already in 2016, McSorley set school records for passing yardage, passing touchdowns, total offense, and total touchdowns in a season. He currently sits first in yards per completion and No. 14 nationally in passing yardage. He’s also had the most rushing yards in a season for a Penn State quarterback since Michael Robinson in 2005 — all numbers that factored into this magical season.
The numbers looked even better when Penn State needed him most. Four second-half touchdown passes in the Michigan State game to clinch the title game berth followed by another eye-popping final half against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. At one point midway through the fourth quarter, McSorley was 9-of-9 for 241 yards with four touchdowns. It takes a certain caliber of player to produce such figures — and McSorley’s left no doubt that he’s that type of player.
This may be jumping the gun a bit by saying this, but McSorley could very well be on his way to becoming the most decorated Nittany Lion quarterback we’ve seen to date. It’s important to remember if he’s to enter the pantheon of Penn State quarterbacks, he must first avoid regression and continue his winning style of football. That said, the young signal-caller from Virginia has overcome his fair share of adversity, doubt, and a lot of unnecessary hate. However, I believe that McSorley has emerged battle-tested and is fully capable of taking Penn State to even higher places. From the team’s victories and trophies, to his numbers, leadership, guts, and gamesmanship that have been integral to this program’s success, McSorley’s blazing a winning trail.