Penn State Football

How many passing yards & TDs will Trace McSorley throw in 2018? Here’s what we think

McSorley being more vocal as team leader

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley talks to the media about being more of a vocal leader this year.
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Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley talks to the media about being more of a vocal leader this year.

Penn State’s Trace McSorley has already been lauded this preseason as one of the nation’s best collegiate quarterbacks. But what exactly does that mean for the Nittany Lions?

What kind of numbers do McSorley’s talent and ability translate to?

We recently set out to answer that by consulting the over/under of an online sportsbook — and then taking sides on whether we felt McSorley would go over the projected numbers or under.

In other words: Will McSorley throw for more than 3,450.5 yards in the regular season and pass for more than 25.5 touchdowns?

Here’s what we think:

John McGonigal: No and yes

Over the last two seasons, I have learned not to doubt Trace McSorley. He probably won’t hit the over when it comes to yards — but he will on touchdowns.

McSorley has a lot working against him in 2018. Saquon Barkley and the attention he commanded are off to the NFL. So are record-setting receiving options DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki. And, if you have for some reason, don’t forget about Joe Moorhead, who will probably lead Mississippi State to a top-20 finish in his inaugural season in Starkville.

But McSorley is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate for a reason. Having thrived in the RPO system for two years, his understanding of Penn State’s offense is immeasurable. And new offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne is going to lean on that, with McSorley earning more freedom in pregame game planning.

“Confidence is the hinge of the door to success,” Rahne said, and McSorley has plenty of it — in himself and his supporting cast.

Juwan Johnson is ready to be McSorley’s No. 1 option in Hamilton and Gesicki’s absence. The redshirt junior wideout has top-10 NFL draft pick talent, according to Optimum Scouting’s Eric Galko. The analyst said, “The sky’s the limit,” for Johnson, and it’s hard to argue the wideout’s breakout potential.

DeAndre Thompkins, while seemingly forgotten by many, returns as a speedy, veteran deep threat. Five-star freshman Justin Shorter — who stands at 6-foot-4, 226 pounds — looks like he could go to the league next year. And redshirt freshmen Mac Hippenhammer and KJ Hamler, who’s nicknamed “The Human Joystick,” will add to McSorley’s arsenal of passing options.

Tight end could be an issue. But with what should be the best offensive line of James Franklin’s tenure, McSorley will get more clean pockets to operate than ever before.

Look, with a defense replacing eight starters, McSorley and the offense might need to carry the Nittany Lions in 2018. And while Penn State might not get 11 wins like it did in 2016 and 2017, McSorley is going to get his.

Still, 3450 passing yards in a regular season is hard. If we were talking about the entire season, bowl game and possible Big Ten Championship game included, I’d say yes in a heartbeat.

Touchdowns, though, are a different story. McSorley had 26 scoring strikes in the regular season last year, and with the increased reliance on his right arm this season — even with a tougher schedule featuring Big Ten West powerhouse Wisconsin — he should surpass that easily.

Josh Moyer: Definitely no and maybe no

Let’s put this into perspective first: What you’re essentially asking is whether McSorley will have more passing yards than last season. He had 2,976 yards in the regular season as a sophomore and 3,228 as a junior. So do I think he can increase last season’s total by more than 200 yards?

No, no I do not.

It’s not that I think McSorley has taken a step back, or anything of the sort. He’s undoubtedly a talented quarterback, but Barkley was a better player as a junior than a sophomore — and his rushing totals decreased by more than 200 yards last year. McSorley has a new offensive coordinator, fewer weapons and a harder defensive schedule. He’ll still wow, he’ll still be in the Heisman conversation early — but he won’t post up crazy numbers.

Defenses focused on Barkley last season, and McSorley was the benefactor. Now, they’ll be after the passing game — and it doesn’t help that the New York Giants’ new playmaker accounted for more than 600 receiving yards last year. There’s a lot of young talent in the receiving corps, but McSorley still lost four of last season’s top-6 targets.

And let’s take a look at the schedule. McSorley will need to maintain a pace of 287.5 yards per game to meet that 3,450.5 goal — and he surpassed that just four times last regular season, against Georgia State (309), Indiana (315), Michigan State (381) and Nebraska (325). Well, the Huskers are gone this season — and Wisconsin’s fifth-ranked pass defense has replaced them. Michigan State’s entire secondary returns, and it only allowed 300-plus passing yards in two games last year.

If you look at Penn State’s 2018 conference opponents, five of the seven teams they faced last year should have as good or better secondaries. The other two are Iowa and Ohio State, which should still be strong. Heck, even Pitt’s secondary — in which Jordan Whitehead was suspended for last year’s Penn State matchup — proved to be solid late last season and should be improved this time around.

Touchdown passes are a bit harder to predict. McSorley actually had 26 in the regular season last year but, for the reasons I stated above, I just think those numbers are going to be harder to come by this season.

McSorley always tends to surprise. And as someone who’s already staked his claim as one of the Nittany Lions’ best ever, it should shock no one if he hits both overs and puts together the best statistical season that PSU fans have ever seen — but I’m not betting on it.