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Penn State Football: Another Page Added to Legacy as McSorley Hits Record and Fights Frustrations

by on November 17, 2018 6:30 PM

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Trace McSorley has never really been in a hurry after a game.

He takes his time, maybe because he just spent three hours getting hit, maybe because he just takes it slow when he doesn't have to go fast.

Whatever the case, he was one of the last to make his way toward Penn State's caravan of team buses on Saturday evening as the Nittany Lions headed home with an eighth win and a 20-7 victory over Rutgers.

For McSorley, the afternoon was the story of his career inside the story of the season. The win was the 30th of his tenure, now the most by a quarterback in Penn State history. Whatever his flaws, whatever games he would like to have back, McSorley has undeniably been one of the most successful quarterbacks in program history. He has a Big Ten title to show for it, national recognition to prove it, and is closing in on a third-straight 10-win season to back it all up.

But the broad successes are hard to see when the present frustrations are so glaring. On Saturday it was once again the unofficial calling card of Penn State's 2018 campaign: a hodgepodge of offensive spurts coupled with moments of confusion and struggles. The Nittany Lions are — on paper — more talented than most in the Big Ten, but they still get in their own way, never quite clicking on offense and occasionally exposed for being youthful. For a team with eight wins, they rarely seem to look the part for an entire quarter.

In the mind of McSorley it is even more frustrating. Since his knee injury in the first half against Iowa he has completed 48-of-92 attempted passes for 539 yards over a span of what amounts to three and a half games.

Following the injury his throws have, at times, been surprisingly inaccurate, and all season long his receivers have dropped as many as they have caught. He is hurt, still limping more than he shows. After throwing for 200 or more yards in 11 games last year, he has done it just four times in 2018. He is 1,721 yards behind his career seasonal average.

Nothing has looked quite like the Trace of old. He hasn't been himself. Most frustrating of all, he can’t be that player, his knee won’t let him.

Then again, neither has Penn State's offense, a unit that ranks among the best in scoring but still manages long stretches of unwatchable play. The magic buzz of the Joe Moorhead offense is gone, and left behind is more a homage to Moorhead with dashes of John Donovan and Ricky Rahne than a continuation.

So McSorley struggled again on Saturday, although his 17-for-37, 183-yard and two touchdown stat line rounded out to be more effective than it began. 

Nevertheless, the perpetually stoic leader finally needed a moment, a chance for someone to talk him off the ledge for a change. McSorley, short of his home run celebration, is not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve. But on Saturday it was receiver KJ Hamler — who smashed his helmet on the sideline in a loss against Michigan — talking to McSorley, not the other way around.

"(I was) just telling him to chill out, it's football, I don't know what you're over here being mad for, get over it," Hamler said. "I don't like when Trace is frustrated because then I'm frustrated, the whole team frustrated. Trace is the leader of our team so I just gotta keep him in a positive attitude."

Did it work?

"Yeah, it did." Hamler said with a smile.

"I think it's one of those things, I never want to jump a guy because I know I'm going to need them at some point, and I don't want them to think I'm being too hard on them." McSorley said about keeping his emotions to himself and never letting go on the sideline. "A lot is expected, but I know I'm going to need every single one of my teammates at some point and I just want to keep guys up, especially during games, so their confidence level is high."

True to form, the frustrations of the day buried and gone, McSorley isn't done fighting for what he knows this team can be even if there is only so much he can really do to impact the future in two games. Maybe his story is written, but he has never worried much about himself. If he did he probably wouldn't have been running around the field for a 51-yard touchdown against Iowa not long after getting knocked out of the same game not much earlier.

"I think we just keep going with our process and how we work every single week," he said, leaning up against the stands. "I'm not going to say we can't reach our full potential. Nobody knows what will happen these next two games. We've been close at a lot of points, we just have to be able to put it together and I think at some point we can reach that level and I continue to expect us to work to get to that level."

In reality Penn State's overall success in the future won't be determined by how accurate he is over the next two games. His legacy is established, his records won't fall anytime soon. There is a chance for a feel-good ending to this season but not much else. Penn State in 2019 will be a different team with a different quarterback. In many ways the frustrations of the season won't really matter in a few months because so much will have changed.

For McSorley, he now stands near a different ledge, one that will mark the end of his collegiate career. A regular season game and a bowl — eight quarters. And then it's all over.

It's a lonely thought, maybe even a terrifying one if you're Trace. There is no certainty that he will make it in the NFL, a league that is critical to the bones about quarterbacks. Unlike many other sports there is no real viable option beyond the CFL for those that don't make it to the NFL. In two months time Trace McSorley may never take another snap in a game that matters.  

So maybe that's why he walks so slowly, not really in a hurry to get to whatever is next.

"I always go back to what Coach Moorhead told me, live it up in the moment," McSorley said. "Shake every hand, take as many pictures as you can, sign as many autographs for little kids, because at some point nobody is going to remember you. At some point nobody is going to care as much as they do now."

"When I'm old and decrepit I'll be able to look on it and be proud of everything," he added with a chuckle.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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