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Penn State Football: Even In An Open Race, This Is McSorley's Job To Lose

by on April 16, 2016 5:38 PM

You don't have to be a quarterback guru to see where this is going.

Trace McSorley has been a backup to one of the most sacked and potentially injured-at-any-moment quarterbacks in college football history. 

He has played at a moments notice in a bowl game and played reasonably well. 

He completed 23 of 27 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns in Penn State's spring game on Saturday. His counterpart Tommy Stevens spent his day with the second unit until the fourth quarter, amassing just 48 yards through the air thanks in large part to his mismatched teammates facing a dominant first team defense.

McSorley was made available to the media after the scrimmage. Stevens was not.

And yet James Franklin and his staff stood firm on their plans to leave Penn State's quarterback race wide open heading into the summer. Even if nothing about how it was managed on Saturday or their past experiences makes it sound or look like a real competition.

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"I just think Trace McSorley was the backup quarterback all last year and was preparing to go into games. Tommy was redshirting," James Franklin said on Saturday. "I think Tommy has a lot of ability and is going to be in this battle until the end. I don't think it's fair to our football team, I don't think it's fair to Tommy right now, to name a starter, when I think that Tommy has the ability to close the gap."

To his credit there were flashes of just that. Early in the game Stevens found a streaking Juwan Johnson down the right sideline, lofting the ball over his shoulder for a beautiful 40+ yard bomb that Johnson should have caught but failed to hang on to. In the second half it was a drive sprinkled in with quarterback option runs and a quick burst of speed that showcased Stevens' athleticism.

When Stevens finally got a chance to operate with the first team offense he went 3-for-3 before a 28-yard run by Andre Robinson capped off a 5-play, 84-yard scoring campaign for the game's final 37-0 margin.

So it's not as though Stevens was without his moments, but facing a first team defense with a second team offensive line, he did his best Christian Hackenberg impression and simply tried to stay alive.

The hope of course, is that given more time to work with the first team, that Stevens can continue to close the gap. Even if that never equates to the Indiana native seeing the field, it means pushing McSorley each and every practice. The sophomore quarterback may not lack confidence but that doesn't mean he's a finished product. Not by a long shot.

"That's also going to create a competitive edge in our locker room to keep Trace working because he has a lot of areas in which he can improve as well," Franklin added. "We'll let those guys go into camp and compete and see what happens, but right now I think we have two quarterbacks that we can win with."

Ultimately, no matter how "open" this race might be on paper, it certainly seems to be McSorley's job to lose. It's hard to ignore the accuracy he showed on Saturday, the touch he put on some deep passes and sound decision making. Couple those skills, his footwork and an ensemble of receivers to complement a potentially deadly ground game, and the quarterback is only going to be a small piece to the puzzle.

“I did a good job executing, taking what the defense gave me,” McSorley said. “That’s a credit to everyone else. The offensive line blocked tremendously today, the receivers did a great job of getting open and Mark (Allen) and Andre (Robinson) ran the ball real well.”

Maybe so, but Trace McSorley looked the part on Saturday, and it's going to take quite the summer for him not to be the part when September finally arrives. For the first time in a long time Penn State is facing a simple quarterback race. It's experience and talent against lack of experience and potential.

So for once, the decision ought to be straightforward.



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