Trace McSorley has rarely been the story in 2017.
For most of the season, understandably so, it’s been the Saquon Barkley show. After McSorley completed 18 of 23 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns against Georgia State, it was Barkley’s 142 receiving yards that garnered the spotlight. At Iowa — after accounting for all 65 yards of a masterful 12-play game-winning drive to keep Penn State’s College Football Playoff hopes alive — McSorley was overshadowed by his teammate and Heisman hopeful’s program-record 358 all-purpose yards.
When it wasn’t Barkley, it was someone else. At Maryland, it was backup quarterback Tommy Stevens that received the pub.
But McSorley — who wasn’t showered in national awards or anything of the ilk — was the Nittany Lions’ pacesetter this season. With defenses keying in on Barkley all year long, the pressure was on McSorley to produce, and he did with immeasurable poise.
“It’s just something that you know teams are doing,” McSorley said, shrugging his shoulders a bit with a “What can you do?” attitude. “It’s just something I know is there and continue to prepare knowing that.”
Color his teammates impressed.
Senior wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton called the second-team All-Big Ten quarterback “a baller” for his work this season. Mike Gesicki said “what you see is what you get” with McSorley: a competitor and winner.
Meanwhile, wideout Juwan Johnson, who was on the receiving end of McSorley’s last-second dime at Kinnick Stadium, dubbed him “a warrior.”
“Trace has been through a lot this whole season,” Johnson said. “Just facing adversity and bouncing back from that, coming back the last three games after losing to Ohio State and Michigan State. ... He’s kept his head on straight and won games for us.”
Ten games total, to be exact — and he has a chance to nab No. 11 on Dec. 30 in the Fiesta Bowl against Washington.
As Johnson noted and Penn State fans’ hearts know all too well, the Nittany Lions failed to prevail twice: at Ohio State and at Michigan State. In The Horseshoe, McSorley accounted for three of four offensive touchdowns. A week later, he dropped a season-high 381 passing yards on the Spartans despite throwing three interceptions in sloppy conditions.
Penn State’s playoff hopes died that night in East Lansing. But after it, McSorley’s true colors were confirmed.
In the closing three-game stretch of Penn State’s regular season — against Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland — the redshirt junior completed 62 of 90 passes (68.8 percent) for 776 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. He ran for a touchdown in each contest, too.
That span capped a quietly profound regular season for the Virginia native.
McSorley has thrown 3,228 yards, 26 touchdowns and a 65.3 completion percentage. He also has 431 rushing yards and 11 scores.
For comparison, through 12 games last season, McSorley had 2,976 passing yards, 21 touchdown throws, a 56.3 completion percentage, 372 rushing yards and six scores on the ground.
McSorley sits 387 passing yards away from breaking his own program record without the following: an extra Big Ten title game, 50-50 machine Chris Godwin and big plays padding his stats (seven completions of 40 yards or more this year; 23 such plays in 2016).
“This season, he’s become an all-around quarterback in my eyes,” Hamilton said. “He can make every throw, he’s leading the team, making plays with his feet, putting us in a great situation with the play calls. He’s a field general, and he’s always been able to do that. But he’s taken the next step this year, especially with the types of games we were playing in, the competition and how much excitement was surrounding, like, half of our schedule. For him to handle that and go out there on Saturdays and perform well, it’s real impressive.”
Gesicki said, on top of that burden, McSorley’s inherent role within the offense isn’t fully appreciated.
“A lot of things that people from the outside don’t see are the reads that Trace makes,” the tight end said. “He’s reading a defensive end, then he’s pulling it, then he’s reading an outside linebacker to look for throws. It’s not just him throwing a good ball. I think he’s done a great job. It’s no surprise here.”
Count Hamilton, Johnson and the rest of McSorley’s teammates in that camp, too.
Everyone in Penn State’s locker room has faith in their quarterback. The Nittany Lions have every reason to believe in him.
The season all but fell on McSorley’s shoulders — and the leader delivered.