SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Trace McSorley may not be the prototype of a quarterback that NFL scouts drool over. Indeed, when he was being recruited out of Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, Va., some coaches didn’t think he’d ever be a major college caliber quarterback, and recruited him as a safety.
So now as he concludes his second season as Penn State’s starting quarterback in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl, McSorley, a 6-foot, 195-pound redshirt junior, clearly has shown that he is one of the best at his position in Nittany Lions history, not to mention one of the top quarterbacks in the nation.
You can look at the stats all you want, but the biggest indicator of his value to the Lions is 21-5, his record as a starter in Happy Valley.
“If there’s something I take away from Trace’s game, he’s a competitor and a winner,” tight end Mike Gesicki said Thursday. “You go back and look at those games, 21-5 as a starter, and I think three of those losses [actually, four] were by three points or less. He puts us in position to be successful each and every game.”
McSorley said his record as a starter “means a lot to me.”
“As a quarterback, you’re kind of measured by your wins and losses,” he said, “so for me to kind of have that record going into this game is something that I kind of cherish a lot, and something that I want to keep continuing.”
Other than a couple of mop-up snaps during 2015, McSorley made his first appearance in the TaxSlayer Bowl at the end of that season. He threw his first career touchdown pass there, and has thrown at least one in every game since then, a program-record 27 contests.
He also can hurt defenses with his ability to scramble, throw on the move or run if his receivers are covered. His 11 rushing touchdowns are tied for the most in a season in Penn State history, and his 304.9-yard average of total offense leads the Big Ten.
“Trace probably doesn’t have one thing that blows you away,” Lions head coach James Franklin said. “It’s not like he’s 6-4. It’s not like he runs 4.3 [seconds in the 40-yard dash]. It’s not like he can throw it 80 yards. He does everything well. He’s worked really hard to refine and get better at his craft. His arm has gotten stronger. He’s a better decision-maker. He’s running better.
“The players have a lot of confidence in him. So do the coaches. He’s a winner. He’s athletic. He’s smart. He’s savvy. He’s tough. He throws it probably a lot better than people give him credit for. He’s gradually gotten better in each one of those areas because he comes to work every single day with a great attitude and prepares.”
McSorley has helped supervise a delicate balancing act this week for the Nittany Lions, having fun in the Valley of the Sun after escaping the frigid temperatures back home but still keeping their focus on preparing for Washington.
“I think you do that by being present in the moment,” he said. “If you’re at practice, at meetings, you’re doing everything you can, putting everything into winning the game. When you’re out at the different bowl events and get some free time, it’s enjoying that. But you came here to win a game and that’s your ultimate goal.”
That’s important to McSorley and his teammates particularly after last year’s disappointing loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl on a field goal on the final play.
“To come out with a loss in that game, it’s almost like you don’t feel like you won the Big Ten,” he said. “It’s something that really puts a damper on the year and makes you not feel as successful as you might have been. So that’s kind of been the message this week. Bowl games are about finishing out — finishing the game, finishing the year, making sure you’re going out on a high note.”