Mar. 30, 2018
Not Your Typical Quarterback
Last season, it seemed that every Penn State student, alumni, and fan had a love-hate relationship with quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Hackenberg excelled in his freshman year with the Nittany Lions, but slowly tapered off afterwards. NFL scouts loved Hackenberg, as his build and pocket passing was similar to most professional quarterbacks. However, he struggled in the offense that was run by James Franklin in his sophomore and junior season, which was also accompanied by a weak offensive line.
Hackenberg declared for the draft after last season and was selected with the 51st overall pick by the New York Jets. With Hackenberg out, Franklin had a tough decision on his hands. Who would he start at quarterback: Trace McSorley, the redshirt sophomore with some prior experience in garbage time of games, or Tommy Stevens, the redshirt freshman with all the hype surrounding him. After a long and intense camp, Franklin gave the nod to McSorley for the home opener against Kent State.
Some fans knew what to expect out of McSorley. He played in most of the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia, as Hackenberg went down early and did not return. Trace wasn’t afraid to run and had a cannon for deep bombs. His little experience made other fans hesitant as no one was quite sure if that was just him getting desperate to lead the Nittany Lions to a comeback win, or if it really was his true play style.
In his first full game, McSorley proved why he was chosen as the starter, as he threw for 209 yards, two passing touchdowns, and picked up 47 yards with his feet in Penn State’s 33-13 win over Kent State. McSorley’s completion percentage of 51.6% may not have bode well with some fans. However, he proved wasn’t afraid to throw the long ball, completing four passes over twenty yards.
Throughout the 2016 season for the Nittany Lions, McSorley has commanded the offense to excellence, as they now sit at 8-2 and tenth in the College Football Playoff Rankings. Defenses have struggled against the dynamic duo of McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley. Joe Moorehead’s offense is built for McSorley’s style. Penn State relies off the read option a lot, which McSorley and Barkley have mastered over the season. McSorley’s vision, footwork, arm and Barkley’s speed confuse defenses. Either Barkley takes the ball and runs for a solid gain, or McSorley keeps the ball and bombs it downfield to one of his receivers for a big gain in the air. Defensive coordinators are left scrambling, trying to decide if they should drop back in coverage or blitz the line. McSorley also has the intellect to keep the ball if nothing is open downfield and break off a run to pick up a first down and then some.
McSorley isn’t a perfect quarterback, but he is a perfect combination of what coaches want in a quarterback. He can gun the ball for a 25 yard gain or keep it himself for a gain of 15 yards instead of trying to force a pass that isn’t there, shown in his mere five interceptions compared to his 22 total touchdowns. McSorley also leads the nation in yards per completion, 15.93 yards per completion, shows his big play potential and that he knows how to pick up the yards when needed. In this past game against Indiana, McSorley completed six passes of over 25 yards, and he has a pass for over 30 yards in each game this season.
McSorley not only can bomb the ball downfield, but he is also accurate when he needs to be. Whenever Penn State is losing or tied, McSorley has a completion percentage of 60.9%, which is 5.5% than his normal percentage. When in the fourth quarter, McSorley’s percentage is elevated to 55.3% and he averages ten yards per passing attempt.
Penn State is now on the fast track to the Big Ten Championship Game (thanks Iowa and hopefully Ohio State) and a potential surprise appearance in the College Football Playoffs. Without McSorley, none of this would be possible and the Nittany Lions would be looking at another seven or eight win season. All is well in State College and with McSorley at the helm, it’ll stay that way for a while.
All stats provided by ESPN and Sports Reference.