McSorley embracing opportunities to beat defenses deep
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Trace McSorley is getting comfortable with his newfound obligations and perks as Penn State's starting quarterback.
He enjoys helping organize extra film sessions on Mondays and is on time for his calls and meetings with reporters on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. He's quiet and unassuming when strangers recognize him on campus. Bringing a similar disposition to practice, his calm, calculated approach helps puts his teammates at ease.
''Trace is playing like a guy that probably is a second-year starter,'' Penn State coach James Franklin said. ''Not necessarily in just all his numbers and stats but just his demeanor. It's really good.''
McSorley's comfort level is noticeable on the field, especially in the second half when his team's trailed and opponents have stacked the box to stop Saquon Barkley.
Nearly 60 percent of his total yards have come over the final two quarters and he's thrown or ran for five of his eight touchdowns in that span. His unshakeable attitude could come in handy against Maryland (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) on Saturday, as the two teams have traded the lead 11 times in games that went down to the wire each of the last two years.
''He's a winner,'' tight end Mike Gesicki said.
McSorley went 55-5 at Briar Woods High School in Virginia, where he led a comeback in his first game as a freshman. He led late rallies against Georgia in Penn State's bowl game last season and against Pitt earlier this year with Penn State facing a 14-point halftime deficit both times. Both came up short, unlike McSorley's latest attempt when Penn State trailed Minnesota on Saturday.
With less than a minute left and no timeouts, McSorley scrambled for 26 yards before slipping out of bounds to set up the tying kick. The run shouldn't overshadow a preceding third-down throw when McSorley retreated from a blitzer running free up the middle and threw off his back foot to Chris Godwin for a 20-yard pickup. All this after he consistently stepped up to avoid outside pressures when he racked up 159 of the team's 190 third-quarter yards on three deep balls.
This improving pocket presence is helping McSorley find his groove as a passer as teams continue to stack the box to halt Penn State's running game.
''You see the coverage, but you feel the rush around you,'' McSorley said. ''You're not looking at the rush. You feel where you need to move and slide to get away from the pass rush but still be able to keep your eyes downfield to make a throw.''
McSorley learned to sense pressure early.
As a freshman, he emerged as the only option behind Christian Hackenberg after a handful of other quarterbacks left the program. Franklin hinted then he'd burn McSorley's redshirt year if Hackenberg - who absorbed 82 of 103 career sacks in the two-year span McSorley backed him up - got hurt. The beating Hackenberg took, coupled with the fact that McSorley often led the second-string offense against the top defense in practice, forced him to prepare like he could be called on at any minute and gave him quality reps against a top pass-rushing unit.
''He was thrust into that backup role right away,'' Franklin said. ''And after that, year two, you started to see that the team and the players and he and the coaches had confidence; that if something did go wrong, he could go in.''
With McSorley averaging 256 passing yards per game, defensive coordinators are finding it less tenable to sell out out to stop Penn State's running game.
McSorley believes he'll have more chances to exploit defenses if they keep throwing most of their resources at Barkley. He'll have more options against Maryland, too. Deep-threat receiver Saeed Blacknall is expected to return from a hand injury that forced him out of the last four games.
More importantly, McSorley has confidence he can hit anyone down the field.
''If they decide to do that, we need to beat them over the top, beat them in the pass game,'' McSorley said.