McSorley slow out of Heisman gate, but he's kinda known for the late rally
Heisman campaigns revolve around magic moments and gaudy stats. Through two games, it appears Trace McSorley will need a lot of the former, because Penn State might not need so much of the latter.
Coming into the season, I thought PSU’s senior quarterback might be in line for a season analogous to Johnny Manziel’s 2012 Heisman effort. Manziel passed for 3,706 yards and ran for 1,410 — ridiculous totals for any quarterback, let alone a freshman playing in the SEC.
So far in this season, McSorley is on pace for 2,250 passing yards and 534 on the ground during the 12-game regular schedule. The passing pace, plagued to drop balls in victories over App State and Pitt, should pick up. After all, he’s topped 3,500 yards each of the past two seasons. But it doesn’t appear the Lions will have the desire or the need to have McSorley run 15-plus times per game, as Manziel did in 2012 when he average 7.0 yards per carry and scored 21 rushing touchdowns.
McSorley, in fact, didn’t take off on a designed or improvised run a single time in the first half of Saturday night’s 51-6 trouncing of Pitt. He finished with 5 attempts for 36 yards. Through two games, he’s averaging 5.2 yards per carry and is just off of Manziel’s ground-based scoring pace.
McSorley has never rushed for 100 yards in a game, topping out at 81 on 18 carries two years ago against Maryland. In 2012, Manziel had seven 100-yard rushing games, topping out with 229 in a 41-13 Cotton Bowl victory against Oklahoma. Texas A&M finished 11-2 and No. 5 in the AP poll.
The two quarterbacks are similar in size and style, in their flair for the dramatic, coolness under pressure, instinctual play, field vision and find-a-way-to-win moxie.
The difference (other than the obvious off-the-field dichotomy) seems more about the programs than the players.
With Miles Sanders hitting his stride, Penn State doesn’t need McSorley to lead the team in rushing or take on the risk of 15-20 carries a game. And if Saturday’s second-half defense isn’t a total mirage, the Lions won’t need to employ quite so much of the pedal-to-the-metal attack that’s been so fun yet nerve-wracking to watch over the past two seasons.
If McSorley can’t match Johnny Football in volume, he certainly can in quality. We’ve seen it numerous times over the past two years, and already this year — the game-extending fourth-and-2 conversion against App State followed by the tying TD pass.
The 6-foot, 201-pound point man of PSU’s spread attack boasts these key stats through two games: zero turnovers, 3 TD passes, 3 TD runs, 2 wins, 1 giant bear hug of backup QB Sean Clifford after he completed his first college pass for a mop-up touchdown. I am a Penn Stater and thus biased, but I can’t remember seeing the 23-year-old McSorley have so much as a bad moment. He’s been a classy, fun-loving, team-first, authentic guy throughout his time in Happy Valley.
He may have little left to prove to Nittany Nation, but Heisman analysts and voters are another matter. McSorley’s odds improved after Game 1 but probably will get worse this week. It’s a fickle, up-and-down beauty contest played out as the season progresses.
He started the season as a serious candidate but not the favorite. Without extremely gaudy numbers, his hopes rest with finding a way to get his underdog team to the Playoff after two seasons of near misses. If he pulls that off, there will be enough magical moments to make one heck of a hype video.
That’s his route to victory, and I don’t think he’d want it any other way.