Maturing Trace McSorley effective with short, quick passes

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Maturing Trace McSorley effective with short, quick passes

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — To take the next step in his evolution, Trace McSorley first had to go backward.

Penn State's quarterback went back in the offseason and reviewed enough film and saw enough open receivers who never had a shot to catch one of his passes. There, sitting in front of a computer screen, was the first time McSorley had looked their way.

"Where I was at this point last year, and even toward the end of the year, it felt like I was kind of predetermining things," McSorley said. "Now I feel like I'm doing a better job of going through my progressions and finding that open guy, getting to that third guy in the progression if the first two aren't there."

McSorley might've earned a national reputation for airing out deep balls down the stretch last season, but he's finding that managing a game by taking what defenses give works just as well.

It's also a much more dependable strategy for offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.

"That's what this offense was designed to do," tight end Mike Gesicki said. "You may not see the 70-yard touchdowns that we've had in the past, but that's because defenses aren't allowing us to do that."

After finishing fifth among FBS quarterbacks with 65 completions of 20 or more yards last year, McSorley is on pace for 52 so far. While he's not throwing deep as much, McSorley is using just about every other inch of the field in front of the first-down marker.

That quick passing game has come in handy.

Penn State's rushing attack, which is averaging 1.8 yards per carry on 75 attempts over the last two games, struggled badly against Northwestern. Save for a 53-yard touchdown run from Barkley, the Nittany Lions managed just 42 yards on 38 other carries. McSorley made up the difference by completing 16 of 20 passes that traveled less than 9 yards in the air for short gains to get drives started or keep them going.

"I think he's pretty much better in every metric possible," Penn State coach James Franklin said.

That includes his completion percentage — up nine percentage points to 67 percent — with more yards (1,597), touchdowns (13), attempts (194) and completions (130) than at this time last year. But the area McSorley takes the most pride in is his increased understanding of how defenses open up as plays develop. With it, McSorley's been able to make the most of plays by making good use of his time in the pocket.

Take a third-and-14 from midfield against the Wildcats for example. McSorley had time and his eyes scanned from left to right. He saw Juwan Johnson on an outside comeback, covered. Tight end Mike Gesicki was shadowed on a shallow crossing route. His third option, DaeSean Hamilton, ran a deeper cross and finally found a seam for McSorley to thread for a first down.

"I think Trace has gotten a lot more comfortable just being a quarterback," Gesicki said. "Any time you're in a system for another year, and you're with the same coach, not really switching up anything, you're always going to be more comfortable, more able to go through progressions or read defenses quicker."

As his quarterback has expanded his capacity, Moorhead has found more ways to get quick, shifty receivers the ball so they can gains yards after the catch in space. Those plays — simple, short, confidence-building throws to the flats or on outside routes — could be tougher to complete against No. 19 Michigan's top overall defense on Saturday.

The Wolverines like to play man-to-man coverage and the Nittany Lions are expecting a physical battle from a secondary that's giving up just 138 yards per game.

"They're going to take all the easy throws away," Franklin said. "It's going to be press coverage, man coverage. Our guys are going to have to create space with the routes, and they're going to have to make contested catches."

Penn State falls to Northwestern for 2nd straight loss

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Penn State falls to Northwestern for 2nd straight loss

BOX SCORE

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Vic Law had 18 points and Scottie Lindsey scored 13 to lead Northwestern to a 70-61 victory over Penn State on Saturday afternoon.

Dererk Pardon added 12 points and Bryant McIntosh 10 for the Wildcats (12-9, 3-5 Big Ten), who snapped a two-game skid.

Shep Garner scored 22 points and Lamar Stevens added 13 for the Nittany Lions (13-8, 3-5), who have lost five of eight.

Northwestern used an 11-0 run to pull ahead 66-59 with 3:26 left in the game.

Pardon scored the run's first six points - with two dunks. Law followed with a 3 and McIntosh capped the run with a jumper. Gavin Skelly made two free throws with 27.5 seconds remaining to seal it.

Penn State went without a field goal over the final 10:37. The Nittany Lions shot 37 percent in the second half after shooting 68 percent before the break.

Penn State's Tony Carr was averaging 19.6 points per game to rank second in the Big Ten but finished with just eight points.

The Nittany Lions beat the visiting Wildcats 78-63 two weeks ago.

Law's 3 gave Northwestern its first lead at 24-23 and capped an 11-2 run. Penn State led 35-33 at halftime after Garner nailed two 3s in the final two minutes. He had 17 points and was 5 for 6 beyond the arc at the break.

The Nittany Lions led by as much as nine in the first half.

Northwestern has won seven of its last 11 games against Penn State.

Big Picture
Penn State: The Nittany Lions have had to adjust without their top defender Josh Reaves, who has been suspended for academic reasons. They fell to 1-3 without Reaves.

Northwestern: The Wildcats have faltered after going to the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in school history. The schedule doesn't get easier - the Wildcats play five of their next six games on the road.

Up Next
Penn State is at No. 22 Ohio State on Thursday.

Northwestern is at Minnesota on Tuesday.

Penn State comes up short in overtime

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Penn State comes up short in overtime

BOX SCORE

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dupree McBrayer scored 14 of a career-high 24 points in the second half and overtime and Minnesota beat Penn State 95-84 on Monday night.

Nate Mason added 25 points and Jordan Murphy scored 22 and grabbed 19 rebounds for the Golden Gophers (14-6, 3-4 Big Ten) who snapped a three-game losing streak.

Tony Carr scored 33 points, Mike Watkins added 20 and 11 rebounds and Lamar Stevens chipped in 12 for Penn State (13-7, 3-4).

Minnesota made 53 percent of its field goals on 35-for-66 shooting. That included a 10-for-17 pace from 3-point range with three coming in overtime after the Golden Gophers gave up a 13-point lead with 8:56 to play.

McBrayer hit a jumper then to put Minnesota up with its largest lead of the game at 63-50 but Penn State raced back with a 15-2 run. Mike Watkins capped Penn State's surge with his second steal, sprinted the other way for a dunk that tied it 65.

The teams traded baskets down the stretch before Carr sank a 3-pointer with three seconds left to make it 74-all and force overtime.

Big Picture
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers needed some positive energy. Losers of three straight since star Reggie Lynch was suspended and talented sophomore Amir Coffey was hurt, a win to kick off an East Coast road trip featuring three games in six days should boost their morale.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions need Josh Reaves back. They looked listless at points in this one without arguably their most fiery player. Notably, Penn State has allowed nearly 10 more points per game with their best defender suspended for academic reasons.

Up Next
Minnesota travels to Maryland on Thursday.

Penn State travels to Northwestern on Saturday.