McSorley erases doubters

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Trace McSorley’s reputation of being only successful on deep 50-50 passes carried over into this season.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Trace McSorley’s reputation of being only successful on deep 50-50 passes carried over into this season.

STATE COLLEGE – People have doubted Trace McSorley all along, yet he has done nothing but prove them wrong every step of the way.

McSorley was a four-year starting quarterback in high school, reached the state title game all four years and won it three times.

But he wasn’t offered a scholarship to play quarterback at any Division I school other than Penn State.

Even with the Nittany Lions winning the Big Ten last year while putting up huge offensive numbers, there were still doubts about McSorley during the offseason. At Media Day in August, then-offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead felt the need to defend McSorley — unsolicited — from criticisms that all he did was throw deep passes and hope for the best.

“It’s ridiculous at best and, quite frankly, asinine at worst,” Moorhead famously said of that theory.

If anyone is still doubting McSorley, they either haven’t been paying attention or are just being boorishly stubborn.

Finding the diamond in the rough quarterback and having him succeed in Moorhead’s offense has turned out to be huge for the Lions, who have gone 21-5 with McSorley as the starter for two years.

“That means a lot to me,” McSorley said of the impressive record. “As a quarterback, you’re kind of measured by your wins and losses. For me to have that record going into this (bowl) game is something I cherish a lot.”

Penn State is getting set to face Washington in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, and if the Lions are to win, it almost certainly will be McSorley doing the heavy lifting.

Running back Saquon Barkley gets most of the headlines and attention from defenses. Rightfully so, because if teams don’t key on him, he can beat them at any time from any spot on the field.

But with teams keying so heavily on Barkley, it by and large negated him for large chunks of most games this season. He was held under 100 yards rushing in eight of PSU’s 12 games, yet the Lions still went 10-2 and earned another berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Barkley might have been the Heisman Trophy candidate, but the biggest reason Penn State won a lot of those games was because of McSorley.

“Trace, he’s a baller,” receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. “He comes out every single Saturday, and he just makes things happen. He puts our team in great positions to win, and he makes plays for us every single time he touches the ball.

“He’s really just doing what he’s always done, and he knows how to win. He’s done that since high school, and he carried that into college with his college career. He’s been able to play great games for us, and he put together a great career.”

McSorley, a junior, already holds most Penn State career passing records, and he’ll probably break all the rest next year. This season, he has thrown for 3,228 yards with 26 TDs and only eight interceptions while completing 65.3 percent of his passes.

He’s also the team’s second-leading rusher, with 431 yards and 11 TDs on the ground.

Some might say McSorley is merely a product of the Moorhead system, a quarterback bound to put up big numbers because that’s what the offense calls for. But if you recall, McSorley came in during the TaxSlayer Bowl after Christian Hackenberg got hurt and threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns against Georgia, leading an offense that had been abysmal that season.

“When he got in the game in the TaxSlayer Bowl, he got thrown into the fire right then and there, and he went in and made a ton of plays,” tight end Mike Gesicki said.

That game gave us our first glimpse that McSorley might be better than anyone could have imagined, and his teammates had already been thinking that watching him in practice.

“He was taking all the second-team reps back then, and you saw the plays he was making in practice,” Gesicki said.

As it turned out, McSorley was the perfect engine to make Moorhead’s offense go the past two seasons, whether Barkley was having a big game or not.

“He’s able to make every throw, he’s leading the team, he’s making plays with his feet,” Hamilton said. “He’s putting us in the right situation in the right play call.

“So, him being a field general, he’s always been able to do that. But I think I saw him take the next step this year.”

With Moorhead departing to become head coach at Mississippi State, with Barkley likely leaving for the NFL, and with Hamilton and Gesicki graduating, everyone is wondering what Penn State’s offense will look like next season.

James Franklin decided to stay in house and promoted Ricky Rahne to offensive coordinator, thereby keeping the same system intact rather than bringing in someone else with new ideas.

“I also thought it was the right thing to do for Trace and Tommy (Stevens) and the rest of our quarterbacks because they are very comfortable and confident in this system right now,” Franklin said. “And then also the fact that Ricky recruited every quarterback in that room. I think it just allows us to continue to keep building.”

McSorley said he’s “very excited” that Rahne got the job.

“He’s a tremendous coach, real smart guy, and this is an opportunity for him I think he’s been waiting for for a long time,” the quarterback said. “He’s got a chip on his shoulder, and he wants to be extremely successful.

“His mentality, that chip on his shoulder is really good for our offense because a lot of guys on this offense play that same way.”

Starting, first and foremost, with the quarterback who has defied all the odds to become a star at Penn State.

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