Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley played exactly one play against Maryland last season.
This season, he hopes to play every offensive snap against the Terrapins.
“It will definitely be different this year,” he said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
So too is the perception of him – from last year at this time, and, really, from a month ago. Last season he was Christian Hackenberg’s backup, hustling into the Nittany Lions’ 31-30 victory over the Terps in Baltimore when Hackenberg was nicked and missed a second-quarter snap. McSorley was sacked for a loss of five yards, and did not appear the rest of the day.
As this season began and McSorley emerged as the new starter, there were questions surrounding him, questions he has largely answered. He is third in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (256.8) and total offense (277.8) entering Saturday’s homecoming matchup with the 4-0 Terps, a noon kick on the Big Ten Network.
And McSorley, who has clicked on 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,284 yards and six touchdowns (with three interceptions), has shown himself to be an unquestioned gamer. He nearly led a comeback from 21 points down at Pitt, and last Saturday against Minnesota he rallied the Nittany Lions from deficits of 13-3 at halftime and 23-20 in the final 54 seconds of regulation.
His 20-yard pass to Chris Godwin and 26-yard scramble set up Tyler Davis’ 40-yard field goal with two seconds left, and the Lions won in overtime, 29-26, on Saquon Barkley’s 25-yard TD gallop.
McSorley finished with 335 yards passing and 73 yards rushing, both highs for his brief career. And afterward the redshirt sophomore talked about losing, and how much it eats him up inside.
“That’s always a tough thing, just in my gut: Whenever I lose anything, it just sucks, quite frankly,” he said.
Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne, McSorley’s teammate at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, Va., told FightOnState.com before the season that McSorley’s competitive fire extends as far as video games: If he was unable to master one growing up, he would stay up deep into the night until he did so.
“Trace just has that gene inside him that just makes him a competitor, and just a winner,” Serigne said.
McSorley’s dad, Rick, once played defensive back at Richmond. His Uncle Jeff played fullback at Marshall. From them Trace learned “just the love for the game, the physicality aspect and the work ethic that comes with playing the sport,” he said Tuesday.
The fighting spirit, too?
“Definitely got that from them,” he said.
In his first game as a freshman starter at Briar Woods, he led a decisive 88-yard field goal drive in the closing minutes. He remained behind center the rest of his career, going 55-5 and winning state championships after each of his first three seasons. He also reached the state final his senior year before losing.
McSorley prepped for this year by throwing two touchdown passes in the TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Georgia, after replacing an injured Hackenberg. And he has won over teammates and coaches alike during the Lions’ 3-2 start.
“Trace is just a dog,” Barkley said after Saturday’s game. “The heart he has, it’s amazing.”
Coach James Franklin said Tuesday that McSorley is “playing like a guy that probably is a second-year starter – not necessarily in just all his numbers and stats, but just his demeanor. It’s really good. … There’s a lot of belief in our team in Trace, and there has been for two years.”
McSorley said Tuesday that Maryland has shown itself to be bend-but-don’t-break defense while beating Howard, Florida International, Central Florida and Purdue. It would not be surprising, however, if the Terps play more aggressively against PSU, if they crowd the box in an attempt to limit Barkley’s effectiveness.
That’s what Maryland did last year; Barkley managed 65 yards on 20 rushes. That’s what Minnesota did while limiting him to 63 yards on 20 tries. That’s what a great many opponents figure to do.
As Franklin said, “Until we show not only can we beat you throwing the ball but win games because of it, people are going to keep doing it.”
Fine with McSorley, who like most QBs yearns to go deep.
“Those are the ones, your eyes kind of get a little bigger when you see that call come in,” he said.
He’s also fine with the prospect of having to make plays with his feet, as he did last week. With being in the spotlight.
Sure beats the heck out of a cameo, like the one he had last year in Baltimore.