Mike Gesicki was wide open. Just standing all alone in the end zone, as if he was “dropped out of a helicopter,” Trace McSorley was saying early Saturday evening.
And McSorley missed him. Rolled left and fired a one-hopper in the direction of his tight end in the second quarter of a season-opening 33-13 victory over Kent State.
Just another hiccup for the redshirt sophomore quarterback, who experienced the expected ups and downs in his first career start.
“Obviously there’s things that need to be cleaned up from my perspective and the offense in general,” he said after going 16-for-31 for 209 yards through the air and rushing 14 times for 47 yards. “But overall we were able to come in and get the win, so yeah, I’d say it was successful.”
Coach James Franklin was much more direct.
“I think he’s got a lot more ability than he showed today,” he said. “It’s a good starting point but it’s nowhere near where I know he wants to be and nowhere where we need him to be, long term.”
McSorley missed some other opportunities in the red zone besides the pass to Gesicki. He also missed some deep throws and lost a fumble on a blind-side sack. And he left some wondering if a QB his size – he’s listed at 6 feet, 201 pounds — can survive the season running the ball as recklessly as does.
Overall, Franklin said, the Lions left “between 14 and 21 points” on the field. McSorley hit DaeSean Hamilton for a four-yard touchdown in the first quarter and Gesicki for a 30-yard score with 1:53 left in the game, but there were countless fits and starts in between.
Saquon Barkley, the gifted sophomore tailback, was able to shake loose for 105 yards on 22 attempts, and at this point in his career bears little resemblance to the guy who managed one yard on one carry in last year’s opener, a one-sided loss to Temple.
Now, he said, he’s “just more mature, more prepared, 10 times better (a) player.” But not one who is easily satisfied.
“I felt like I left a lot of plays out there,” he said. “It was a first game. A couple too many mental errors -- just little stuff I’ve got to work on, and stuff that I focused on working on, and it’s got to translate to the field.”
Barkley scored from six yards out in the second quarter, two plays after the Lions’ defense forced a fumble. And time and again he made dazzling cuts and spins that enabled him to create something out of nothing, against a defense that stacked the box in an effort to stop him.
It will not be the last time the Lions see such a look this season, and it will be up to McSorley to make plays, with his arm and his feet.
As Franklin said, such a defense will give a QB the deep ball and the crossing route. McSorley hit one long one Saturday, a 43-yarder to DeAndre Thompkins in the third quarter.
“Definitely need to connect on more of those,” the QB said.
His mobility is another potential counter, if he can remain whole.
“I think it’s a little different here at Penn State to run this style of offense and … run a quarterback, but that’s how we’re going to play,” Franklin said.
They will do so with crossed fingers. McSorley certainly knows enough to slide or get out of bounds when possible, though as the coach said, that’s harder to do in close quarters.
There appeared to be little McSorley could do late in the first half, when KSU defensive end Terence Waugh beat new left tackle Brendan Mahon around the edge and hit the QB from behind, dislodging the ball. Linebacker Elcee Refuge scooped and scored from 20 yards out, and it was 13-13.
McSorley wasn’t exactly sure what happened, saying it was one of those review-the-tape situations. His best guess?
“Probably could have stepped up in the pocket a little bit more, helped out the tackle,” he said.
The Lions were up 16-13 at the half, settling for Tyler Davis’ field goal with 1:47 left in the half despite moving to a first-and-goal at the Kent State 6. That came three plays after the underthrow to Gesicki, and one play after McSorley overthrew Chris Godwin at the left pylon, which didn’t matter as much, since Godwin was called for pushing off a defender anyway.
“The one I think to Mike, I just rushed it,” McSorley said. “Probably got a little too excited when I saw him get that wide open. I’ve got to just calm down and throw that ball.”
It was likely the same thing on the throw to Godwin. Maybe there was a little pressure, the QB said, but it was not a difficult throw.
“But giving those guys a chance to catch the ball down there — they’re big bodies, so the more I can do just to give them a chance, go one-on-one with the defender, (the more chance there is that) they’ll make that play,” McSorley said.
PSU added to its lead when backup cornerback Amani Oruwariye returned an interception 30 yards for a score three plays into the third quarter, and later in the period the Lions faced with a fourth-and-one at the Flashes’ 8. McSorley tried to skirt right end but fumbled the ball, scooped it and was dragged down for a two-yard loss.
Again, he said, he probably “just tried to rush a little too much.”
“Fourth-and-one,” he said, “I probably should have just given it to Saquon. He’ll get the yard.”
All part of the learning process. There are miles to go on that front, more detail work than McSorley might have imagined.