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Penn State Football: McSorley's Toughness Shines In Win

by on November 12, 2016 5:50 PM

Trace McSorley hunched over near the middle of the field all alone, his team running towards the play some 30 yards away.

And he nearly puked. The wind wasn't rushing to his lungs, his breath was gone. Only seconds removed from yet another punishing hit, this one had landed squarely in the middle of his stomach. The result left McSorley gasping for breath and fighting to keep his pregame meal off the turf. 

A referee turned to McSorley but the Nittany Lion quarterback waved him off. James Franklin shouted for McSorley to take a knee and stop the game so he could recover.

But McSorley waved him off too as he slowly jogged away.

Three plays later he would find Chris Godwin in the back of the end zone, cutting Indiana's lead to just three points. An hour or so later, McSorley would find his teammates celebrating their eighth win of the season, keeping the magical run alive.

"This team worked so hard," McSorley said after the game, his left arm wrapped in ice, his right leg weak as he limped across the room. "I'm playing for my brothers, all the other guys, everyone is fighting through something. I'm not going to take myself out because I'm a little nicked up or something."

There is a certain irony that comes with McSorley's success. Before the season he was deemed by many to be too small, not quite tall enough to play quarterback, not quite heavy enough to survive the onslaught headed his way. Former quarterback Christian Hackenberg spent the better part of his career looking at the sky while laying on his back, but Hackenberg was tall and well over 200 pounds, he was built for the beating. It was hard to imagine McSorley surviving that same fate.

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And yet he seems to invite it. If nothing else he certainly isn't avoiding it.

"It's football," McSorley said earlier this week, reflecting on some big hits. "Things like that happen. You've just got to be able to treat every play as its own play and not worry about things that happened a couple plays before or what happened on the last play. Just focus on the task at hand and the play you're about to run and things will take care of themselves."

The result is an interesting leadership dynamic on the roster. While Saquon Barkley is undisputedly the best player on the team and perhaps in the conference, it is McSorley that has set the tone as to the type of team Penn State is and has been. Barkley has provided more than his fair share of game changing plays, his presence on the field alone changes things, but it is McSorley who has guided the ship through waters both calm and stormy.

Often forgotten is the fact that during their current six game win streak the Nittany Lions have been down 10 points on three occasions and have come back to win. That result is a mixture of many things: talent, confidence and play calling. But it's also leadership. McSorley in all three wins has thrown for a total of 821 yards, 300+ on two occasions. He has been the epitome of toughness and his team has followed in his lead. Barkley has changed games, but the argument might be made that McSorley is doing it even more. On Saturday half of his eight completions were for 20 or more yards, his arm may not be the strongest, but he's getting the job done.

"He's a tough sucker, he really is," James Franklin said after the game. "I wanted him to take a knee a couple of times so we could make a substitution and he kind of waved me off. He hobbled down the field. He is tough, he is smart, he is resilient, he's a playmaker. The guys believe in him."

That might very well be the answer to the question so many have asked this season -- how Penn State has managed to go from a program on life support to one ranked in the Top 10. It might be as simple as the quarterback nobody thought was quite big enough just gutting it out and running the show for a team that has taken on the mold of its leader.

This was no more evident than it was on Saturday. In a game that was hardly Penn State's best performance on the year, the Nittany Lions still managed 31 points in the final 16:09 of the game while McSorley tossed for over 330 yards through the air. If Penn State's winning streak has been proof that the Nittany Lions can win the games they should and win them impressively, Saturday was proof that Penn State is equipped to battle out a game, play below its own potential, fight through injury and still win and score 45 points in the process.

"That's something we take pride in, being a tough hardworking team," receiver Chris Godwin said. "And our quarterback is no exception. He's going to work as hard as everybody else and he's going to fight... it's no surprise to any of us. We understand the mindset that Trace brings to the table and I think that mindset and that toughness really showed today."

And that mindset was starting to show across his arms as well, bruises forming nearly in front of the eyes of the media tucked away deep below the stadium. 

"How are you feeling?" a reporter asked. 

"Better than ever." McSorley said with a smile.



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