Two years ago, as he puts it, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley was a wide-eyed, 18-year-old freshman standing on the Beaver Stadium sideline.
It was his first White Out experience — and oddly enough, it was against Ohio State.
McSorley didn’t play at all in 2013, and only saw the field in limited action the following season. But now he’s the starter set to lead Penn State against No. 2 Ohio State at 8 p.m. Saturday in front of a raucous Beaver Stadium.
He’s hoping his first White Out on the field goes better than his first as a spectator, a double-overtime 31-24 loss that continued the Buckeyes’ undefeated campaign toward a College Football Playoff National Championship.
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So, what does McSorley remember about the experience?
While many Penn State recruits witness a White Out on an official visit, McSorley’s recruitment was a bit unusual. He followed head coach James Franklin from Vanderbilt, officially flipping his commitment in January 2014.
So, outside of word-of-mouth, McSorley didn’t know what to expect at his first White Out.
“I heard it was like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” the redshirt sophomore said. “It pretty much exceeded my expectations.”
The quarterback, whose 1,436 passing yards this season ranks third in the Big Ten, will start in his first night game for the Nittany Lions. He’s played on the road at Pittsburgh and Michigan so far this season, but hasn’t been on the field in such a rowdy atmosphere at home.
“They give us such a home-field advantage,” McSorley said. “When you can come in there and feed off of that — the more we can feel the energy — we can build off of that.”
After missing weeks of action due to injury, linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell practiced Tuesday and again Wednesday.
For the period of practice open to media on Wednesday, Cabinda, his left hand wrapped, worked at middle linebacker, flanked by Manny Bowen and Koa Farmer on his left and right, respectively. Meanwhile, Bell manned the left outside linebacker spot with Brandon Smith in the middle and Von Walker on the right side during his reps.
Franklin doesn’t expect Cabinda and Bell, who have missed five and four games, respectively, to “start and play 60 plays.
“They won’t,” Franklin noted. “But there’s no doubt the fact that they’re back provides depth and a leadership we’ve been lacking.”
Franklin didn’t specify what roles Cabinda and Bell will play on Saturday; how the next few days go will determine that. But their eagerness to get on the field was apparent.
“They’re excited,” McSorley said of his teammates. “Both of them are itching to get out there.”
“Cabinda has been like getting fist fights with doctors and trainers the last three weeks to get back on the field,” Franklin joked of the junior.
The coach also said that both linebackers practiced at a higher level than expected the past couple days.
“But both of them, as the practice went on, you could tell that they wore down,” Franklin said. “They’re just not used to practicing, going at that level with that type of intensity.
“So we’ll see.”
With offensive tackle Andrew Nelson possibly lost for the season, Franklin admitted he’s still unsure of what the Nittany Lions will do to fill the void.
Concurrent with what he’s said for the past week, the coach thought some combination of Brendan Mahon, Paris Palmer, Chasz Wright and Will Fries will handle left and right tackle.
On the depth chart Penn State released Monday, Mahon is listed as the starting right tackle and Palmer on the left side, backed up by Fries. However, Franklin said the depth chart isn’t totally indicative of what might happen Saturday.
Fries, a true freshman, would lose his redshirt against the Buckeyes if he were to play, and when asked if it was Nelson’s injury that spurred Fries into the mix for playing time, Franklin said he was impressed with the New Jersey native from the get-go.
“From the time he arrived, he was better prepared than we thought,” Franklin said. “Right away, the strength coaches and players were talking about him early on, and then the coaches noticed at the beginning of camp that he’d have a chance.”