Through four games, Penn State starting quarterback Trace McSorley has proven steady, but not spectacular. McSorley’s worst performance came last weekend at Michigan when he completed 59.3% of his passes for 121 yards and tossed one touchdown and one interception. He was visibly rattled early by a relentless Michigan defense and never recovered. In total, he was sacked a season-high six times for 27 yards. It’s not hard to see why the talented redshirt sophomore failed to display his typical charisma and moxie as the game progressed.
After the game, McSorley apologized to Penn State fans for his performance. An admirable, but unnecessary gesture, McSorley demonstrated that he understands the pressure and spotlight placed on the team’s starting signal caller. McSorley will make just his fifth career start on Saturday against Minnesota and needs some help.
The Ashburn, Virginia-native is listed at an even six feet tall and 205 pounds. Having stood next to McSorley numerous times, I can attest he certainly is no bigger. His athleticism has been lauded as a much needed addition to Penn State’s offensive attack and has the personality to command the huddle.
However, so far McSorley has been counted on to ignite the Penn State offense by orchestrating an efficient passing attack to spread defenses and create space for Saquon Barkley and the Nittany Lions’ rushing attack. Penn State is relying on McSorley, not Barkley, to drive the offense. Most anticipated it would be the opposite, but game plans have dictated otherwise.
There’s no question McSorley has emerged as a capable Big Ten quarterback. Still, when the offense’s success has been placed solely on his shoulders, he’s occasionally faltered. Attempting to stretch the field on the team’s final possession at Pitt, McSorley threw a game-clinching pick. A fourth-quarter interception on a first down pass from deep inside his own territory against Temple provided second-life to the Owls. Finally, Penn State netted minus five yards on his eight first quarter drop backs at Michigan.
Often perceived as a criticism, I think McSorley is at his best when serving as a game manager. In his first full season as a college starter, that’s not a bad thing. He’s succeeded in that role. So has Penn State.
So, what can Penn State do to help McSorley fit into that role?
- Avoid Slow Starts
- Establish a Running Game
While Barkley has broken some long runs, there are too many plays resulting in almost no gain or minimal yardage. Franklin explained the team’s scheme at length this week and does not appear interested in deviating. McSorley can help here too. He effectively used his legs to neutralize the Kent State defense on occasion in the season opener, but has 27 rushes for negative 15 yards over the last three games. While these numbers can be deceiving because of college football’s ridiculous policy of counting sacks against rushing stats, McSorley has not been a factor running the football.
- Keep Additional Protection in to help Offensive Line
Head coach James Franklin reiterated several times at his weekly press conference that the offensive line has improved. Penn State is still altering personnel to find the proper alignment. Still, there is a ceiling with this group and going against physical Big Ten fronts, they could use some support.
- Continue to Excel on Special Teams
News and Notes –
Big Ten Clarifies Targeting Rule:
The Big Ten Conference released a statement yesterday clarifying targeting rules and officiating procedures after several controversial calls nationwide during week four of the college football season. Conference officials specifically noted that Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith should not have been ejected from last weekend’s game against Michigan because he was making a play on the ball. Here’s the entire statement:
During Saturday’s Penn State at Michigan football game, a Penn State defensive player was ejected for targeting with14:55 remaining in the 2nd quarter. We do not find fault with the flag that was thrown by the on-field officials as they are instructed to prioritize player safety when making calls.
Targeting occurs when a player takes aim at an opponent, whether the crown of the helmet is used to make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent, or whether there is forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent that goes beyond making a legal tackle, a legal block, or playing the ball. In this particular play, the defender was making a legitimate attempt to get to the ball and, upon full review, the call of Targeting should have been reversed by the Replay Official.
Prior to the 2016 season, the NCAA granted additional authority to Replay Officials when reviewing on-field targeting calls by changing the standard of review. As a result, the Replay Official now has the authority to re-officiate and review all aspects of the on-field targeting call and in the absence of specific indicators identified by NCAA targeting standards, the Replay Official can reverse the on-field call. Additionally, Replay Officials have the ability, and responsibility, to independently review potential targeting plays that are egregious and not seen, or called, on the field.
Protecting the health and safety of our students will continue to be our highest priority.
Barkley Leads Big Ten:
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley still remains atop the Big Ten’s touchdown chart, despite failing to reach pay dirt against Michigan. Barkley has six rushing scores and one receiving touchdown this season. Barkley’s seven touchdowns are two more than six other players. Wisconsin’s Corey Clement, Ohio State’s Noah Brown, Minnesota’s Rodney Smith, Rutgers’ Janarion Grant, Nebraska’s Jordan Westerkamp and Iowa’s Akrum Wadley each have five touchdowns this season.
Penn State head coach James Franklin did not provide a specific timetable on the anticipated return of injured linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell. Franklin said the two players are expected to return this season, but are not likely to play in the next few weeks.
Minnesota sack leader Tai’yon Devers will miss Saturday’s game with a left ankle injury. The freshman is responsible for three of the Golden Gophers’ nine total sacks this season and ranks fourth in the Big Ten in total sacks.