How Trace McSorley Became One Of Penn State’s Deadliest Weapons On The Ground

Trace McSorley has emerged from an under-recruited athlete to become one of the best quarterbacks in college football. With 8,419 career passing yards and a not-so-shabby career quarterback ratingĀ  of 150.7, McSorley is already the career leader in passing touchdowns at Penn State with 69.

In addition to his skill at throwing the ball, the Ashburn, VA native’s ability as a runner sets him apart from other elite quarterbacks in college football.

McSorley wasn’t able to show off his rushing ability much as a freshman while backing up Christian Hackenberg. His six attempts for 12 yards and no touchdowns didn’t exactly scream “elite rusher.” Even during his breakout TaxSlayer Bowl performance, McSorley only ran for 31 yards on seven attempts.

Although fans were still optimistic about the additional mobility McSorley provided by replacing Hackenberg, no one expected him to follow in the footsteps of scramblers like Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, and Marcus Mariota. And McSorley didn’t give fans much reason to be excited about him as a rusher during his first few games. A 47-yard performance against Kent State was followed by a negative-17-yard outing against Pittsburgh, an 8-yard effort against Temple, and a negative-6-yard game at Michigan.

That win against Temple included McSorley’s first ever rushing touchdown, but even dad bod quarterbacks like Tom Brady manage to finesse one of those every once in a while. Still, though, there was a hint of greatness in this play.

The Nittany Lions’ huge overtime win against Minnesota in 2016 started a lot of things for Penn State, including McSorley’s emergence as a weapon on the ground.

The quarterback rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown against the Golden Gophers. This performance led to an 81-yard outing against Maryland. He added 63 more rushing yards against Ohio State. Did we mention he scored a touchdown in each of those games?

This sudden explosion continued for McSorley during the season. He finished the year with 365 rushing yards and seven scores, rebranding the Nittany Lion offense as dynamic and flexible.

While The “Temple Run” may not have seemed impressive, it offered a glimpse of things to come. Suddenly, the former high school state champion was given more freedom on offense and gave defenses another threat to worry about.

McSorley improved on the ground in 2017, running for 491 yards with 11 touchdowns. His season on the ground peaked with a three-touchdown, 76-yard White Out performance against Michigan.

Despite their best effort, Michigan’s defenders couldn’t stop the quarterback from powering into the end zone from nine yards out on a fake handoff. And much like that first touchdown against Temple, McSorley, as undersized as he is, put his head down and muscled his way into the end zone, sticking the ball out to cross the goal line.

This season is shaping up to be McSorley’s best year on the ground yet. Through only five games, he’s tallied 410 yards and 6 touchdowns, only 81 fewer yards than his total from last year. He rushed for 175 yards in a loss to Ohio State to follow up a 92-yard performance on the ground against Illinois — both career highs.

Although he didn’t find the end zone in either of those games, his performance on the ground carried the Nittany Lion offense against Kent State and Appalachian State, against which he ran for a total of five touchdowns.

It’s not hard to see how much better McSorley has gotten in the run game in this clip from that 27-26 loss to Ohio State.

McSorley can turn a dead passing play into a huge gain on the ground. He’s one of the Nittany Lions’ most dangerous weapons on any part of the field.

Processing the game at such speed is what separates McSorley from the rest of the pack; the hallmark of a crafty runner is surprising defenders who likely spent all week watching film of you run.

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About the Author

Matt Paolizzi

Since graduating from Penn State in 2021, Matt is (hopefully) manning a successful job and (hopefully) living a happy life by now. In a past life, he was a writer for Onward State and remains a proud alumnus of the best student publication in the country. Check out Podward State too, Onward State's official podcast, that he co-founded alongside Matt Ogden and Mitch Stewart in 2019. It's his baby, give it a wave and make sure it's doing okay. Thanks to da king Sam Brungo and everyone who follows, it most definitely is.

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