Sharing Penn State’s quarterback ‘vision’: The Trace McSorley skill the Lions keep finding in recruits
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley fit James Franklin’s program vision long before the product on the field ever reflected it.
McSorley committed to Penn State with little fanfare in Franklin’s first recruiting class in 2014. He was the polar opposite of then-starter Christian Hackenberg, who was a touted five-star recruit with a huge frame and NFL arm. McSorley was a winner whose physical abilities graded out short of elite, who was athletic, competitive and scrappy. He was listed at 6-0 and 182 pounds.
McSorley’s arrival in Happy Valley offered the first hint at how Franklin would treat the quarterback position. Franklin valued mobility and competitive drive, and made it known his ideal quarterback had to be smart and decisive and at least pose a threat with his legs.
“I don’t consider myself a running quarterback,” McSorley said going into his redshirt freshman season. “I consider myself a quarterback who can get out of trouble or can utilize his feet or athletic ability, that’s how I see myself.
“I drop back to pass, look for my first option, if it’s not there, I’m gone. That’s not me. I’m going to go through my progressions. If things break down, I’m going to use my legs to make a play.”
McSorley showed flashes of his potential in the TaxSlayer Bowl to cap the 2015 season, when he completed 14 of 27 passes for 142 yards and two scores in relief of an injured Hackenberg. McSorley started slowly but offered a good preview of his game by leading the Lions to two touchdowns on their final three drives.
Everything then changed after the game.
Hackenberg declared for the NFL draft, and Joe Moorhead was hired as the Lions’ offensive coordinator, bringing with him from Fordham an up-tempo offense that leaned on McSorley’s strengths.
McSorley was named the Lions’ starter just before the 2016 season and walked the fine line between improvisation and sound decision-making to near-perfection. He bailed when he needed to bail, hung tough in the pocket and demanded attention on run-pass option plays.
One of the skills McSorley showed that helped unlock the full value of the Lions’ offense was his ability to keep his eyes on his receivers as he eluded pressure. McSorley extended plays and looked downfield to explosive results. The Lions ranked among the most prolific offenses in the country, in terms of generating 40-yard plays.
“It’s something I’ve kind of always been taught. I did it some in high school,” McSorley said late last season. “We do it a lot of times in practice. Coach Moorhead is always saying, ‘Move in the pocket with your eyes downfield. Never let your eyes look at the rusher, always keep your eyes up.'”
Of course, if it were easy, anyone could do it.
That vision cuts to the heart of Penn State’s quarterback approach. Maybe they’re big. Maybe they’re small. Maybe they’re elite talents. Maybe they’re not. Franklin has shown an indifference toward body types and a comfort in landing recruits who might not check all the NFL boxes.
McSorley is the blueprint, but he’s not the last. Penn State has recruited more with the same core strengths.