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Penn State Football: Franklin Explains Late Quarterback Rotations

by on November 04, 2018 1:40 AM

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — If you were riding out Penn State's loss to Michigan to the bitter end you probably noticed a Matt McGloin/Rob Bolden 2010-2011 homage as James Franklin alternated between Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens late in the third quarter and most of the fourth.

And if that sequence confused you, congrats on not being alone.

The initial change began late in the third quarter when McSorley was finally subbed out as his knee injury and general abilities struggled to compete with a swarming Michigan defense. The move -- as James Franklin would later note -- may have been too little too late, but it made a certain amount of sense. Penn State was struggling to move the ball, the Nittany Lions were in need of a spark and in all likelihood the game was already over.

If nothing else it allowed McSorley ride out the remainder of the game on the bench in the interest of his own health. A related note: one of the biggest downsides to Penn State's no-injury-updates policy with the media is that it's hard to gauge personnel decisions when it's unclear the factor health might play in them. 

Nevertheless, McSorley was on the sidelines and Tommy Stevens found himself in the backfield.

But then Stevens threw a pick-six.

“We can’t turn the ball over in those situations. So we felt like we had to go back to Trace,” Franklin said. “It wasn’t a situation where the guy just made a great play. The last thing we want to do when we’re in a situation like we were in tonight is start turning the ball over. That was the decision to go back.”

And so McSorley, healthy enough to start but too injured to continue playing, found himself back on the field. A few plays later, his leg and knee stretched during a tackle, McSorley winced as he left the field, clearly in pain.

So it was Stevens time again.

“We were going back and forth just by what the coaches felt,” McSorley said following the game. “Me and (Tommy), we were just waiting to hear what they were saying before the next drive, so we knew what was going to happen."

But after a stalled drive and McSorley apparently back to some amount of appropriate levels of health, Stevens headed back to the bench — with little explanation of the thought process along the way, according to him and McSorley.

“Coach Franklin came over and said, ‘You’re going back in,’” McSorley recalled. “That’s how that went down.”

If it all still seems confusing, well then you'd be right. But for Penn State, the Nittany Lions will hope McSorley's status is much clearer in the coming weeks in either direction. Because it was just a few head coaches ago that musical quarterbacking chairs did little for the continuity of the offense, and with three winnable games left on the regular season schedule Penn State doesn't need to make this harder than it already is.

Especially when the options are a three-year starter and the probable signal-caller in 2019. In reality, no bad choices.

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