Penn State's McSorley has Wisconsin's attention

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Trace McSorley #9 of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks to pass in the first quarter during the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Beaver Stadium on October 1, 2016 in State College, Pa.

When Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst first addressed the media during Big Ten championship game week, he had seen Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley only from studying film of teams that his Badgers would be playing during the regular season.

But he saw enough to admire the way McSorley plays football.

"What's jumped out at me . . . he looks to me like he loves playing the game and he competes," Chryst said. "He has great energy about him and obviously is talented, makes plays with his arm, makes plays with his feet.

"I liked watching him until this week when we're getting ready to play him. But he looks like a heck of a quarterback. That's what we're doing this week, looking at it and trying to figure out a way to defend him."

The deep ball has been a trademark of the Nittany Lions' offense this season, and is something the Badgers are going to have to deal with in Saturday night's conference title contest at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

McSorley has been given the green light to throw long. The redshirt sophomore passed for 376 yards in Saturday's win over Michigan State on 17 completions in 23 attempts. His season mark of 16.17 yards per completion is tops in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and his yards per attempt, 9.10, is ninth.

According to cfbstats.com, McSorley has completed 32 passes of 30 or more yards this season, including five against the Spartans. Chris Godwin caught touchdown passes of 34 and 59 yards and has seven catches for 30 or more yards. He leads the team in catches (47), receiving yards (762), and touchdowns (nine).

"Their quarterback gives their guys a chance and I can see why," Badgers cornerback Sojourn Shelton said Monday. "When you see the film, you see guys making plays on the ball, going up [to] get it."

McSorley has plenty of talented receivers and is a threat to run any time, but he said the success with the explosive plays all begins with the offensive line.

"They've done a great job protecting all year," he said, "giving us quarterbacks time to look and take those shots downfield trying to get those explosive plays and letting our receivers work on the outside. I think that's a real big part of our offensive line play. They've done a tremendous job."

It also helps to have Saquon Barkley in the backfield. Barkley, who said Monday he was "doing fine" but still getting treatment for what was believed to be an ankle injury suffered in Saturday's game, has rushed for 1,219 yards.

"Utilizing play action with Saquon, the threat he is out of the backfield, I think that's helped us to be able to get one-on-one matchups on the outside with the receivers," McSorley said.

Wisconsin has a sound defense, with a secondary that is one of the best in the nation. The Badgers lead the FBS with 21 interceptions, and are fifth in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Shelton has four picks, tied for second on the team behind Leo Musso's five.

"They've got really good players on the back end and a tough front seven," McSorley said. "It's going to be a real challenge for us. They don't give up a lot of explosive plays. They're solid and you've got to play a really good game. They're not going to beat themselves."

jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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