Penn State QB Trace McSorley determined to cut down on mistakes

Penn State QB Trace McSorley determined to cut down on mistakes

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley has spent a lot of time this winter thinking about one pass from last season -- his final toss.

That late-game interception set up USC's Rose Bowl-winning field goal and set McSorley on a path to improve his in-game judgment.

"That's probably the biggest takeaway from that throw," McSorley told The Associated Press. "Feeling that line between aggressive and reckless. Toward the end of the year we were real aggressive and we had a lot of success being aggressive, but being able to handle that aggressiveness and success, knowing that even though it had been there probably the past five or six times, doesn't mean it's going to be there the next time."

McSorley spent the last few months poring over game film and picking apart his own mistakes, preparing to take on more responsibility in offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's no-huddle, line-up-then-match-up attack. Penn State returns every offensive player except for top wideout Chris Godwin and center Brian Gaia from last season's Big Ten championship squad, and McSorley is determined to make good on his offseason preparation.

"We know we have so many weapons on the outside," McSorley said. "We've definitely got a ton of potential and I'm excited to see the kind of fun we can have in year two."

After the Rose Bowl, McSorley spent a few days in the Los Angeles area visiting family before heading back to campus. In Happy Valley, he sat with Moorhead for long sessions examining all the deep plays that made Penn State's offense one of the most dangerous.

McSorley tied for second in the country with 23 passing plays of 40 yards or more and threw 38 passes of 30 yards or more, opening up space for dynamic running back Saquon Barkley by forcing cornerbacks and safeties to play on their heels. McSorley added seven rushing touchdowns, threw for 29 and threw just eight interceptions.

He set single-season school records for passing yards, passing touchdowns and total yards and led Penn State to a comeback win in the Big Ten championship game. He did so largely with his willingness to test secondaries, relying on a talented wideout corps including NFL-bound Godwin and rangy tight end Mike Gesicki to battle for deep balls.

"Trace is definitely a crazy, crazy quarterback," safety Marcus Allen said. "He does whatever he wants out there and he can handle it. He has unbelievable IQ as a quarterback."

Now he's going to try to be smarter about the chances he takes.

He's learned to see that many of the deep balls he threw were not only chances for his receivers but opportunities for defenders. If he had them to make again, he'd look elsewhere -- avoid making deep throws into coverage like the passes that sealed losses to Pitt and USC.

"All right, we had the deep shot called down the field," McSorley said. "Didn't get what we wanted so there's no use in forcing it. Find a checkdown, or maybe try and scramble around and have someone pop open, or gain some yards with my legs or throw it away."

A handful of practices into spring ball, Penn State coach James Franklin has noticed this more cerebral approach from his quarterback. McSorley's reads at the line of scrimmage have been clearer, and Franklin believes they'll help him eliminate some of the unnecessary swashbuckling.

"He's just a lot more comfortable and confident," Franklin said. "You look at his touchdown to interception ratio, it was really good. But when he had interceptions, they came in bunches. We've got to cut that down. You cut his interceptions down in half, we're in a really, really good situation."

Penn State's leading defense depends on swarming to ball

USA Today Images

Penn State's leading defense depends on swarming to ball

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — James Franklin's whistle is the last one Penn State players hear at practice, and sometimes the coach will hesitate before he blows plays dead.

He's waiting for a satisfactory number of white helmets to charge the ball carrier. It doesn't usually take long for him to see what he wants — eight, maybe nine defenders all converging on the football.

"You can take an average defense and be a good defense just by doing that one thing," Franklin said. "I think what we've been able to do is take a good defense and take it to that next category, whatever you call it, by doing a great job of running to the football."

It's helped cue a run in which the No. 2 Nittany Lions have allowed an FBS-low 9 points per game. They'll look to continue the trend against No. 19 Michigan on Saturday. They might need to in order to keep their national championship hopes alive, as the Wolverines will bring the nation's top overall defense to Happy Valley for Saturday's primetime showdown at Beaver Stadium.

The Wolverines are allowing just 223 yards per game and, like the Nittany Lions, are swarming to make tackles.

"It's not something you think about, it's just something that happens," Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer said. "You don't really see yourself not running to the football because it's so natural."

And because it's been stressed repeatedly over Franklin's three and a half seasons in charge.

In addition to his late whistles, Franklin will regularly step away from interviews with local reporters to scream at his players to run off the practice field. Further, he can point out statistics -- such as his team's plus-12 turnover differential — supporting his claim that collective hustle makes a difference.

Without it, Franklin knows the 17 takeaways his team has this year could be much closer to the nine it had at this point last season.

"Think about how many times last year the ball was on the ground as a fumble and we didn't come up with it," Franklin said. "This year we're coming up with those fumbles because we got more people around the ball."

Franklin's philosophy is echoed by his defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who's based his schemes on one principle.

"We're a staff that believes in team speed," Pry said. "It's noticeable right now, especially in the back seven. I think we're running really well."

Pry has confidence that Penn State's athletic group of linebackers can roam sideline to sideline. Starters Jason Cabinda, Manny Bowen and Farmer — a converted safety — have combined to help on 49 tackles. On the back end, safeties Marcus Allen and Troy Apke and corners Grant Haley and Christian Campbell have chipped in 34 helpers.

His defense's ability to pursue and gang tackle gives Pry even more confidence to call blitzes. It's made Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wary, too. Harbaugh said Monday he wasn't yet sure of the best way to attack the Penn State's defense.

"Don't see them giving up a lot of big plays in the running game or the passing game, which means they're really sound," Harbaugh said. "You can already see really good players in the front seven and in the secondary. They get to the ball, they close up gaps and they're rarely out of position."

Franklin might as well have repeated Harbaugh's concern Tuesday. Penn State's coach worked with Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown at Maryland and sees the same qualities that make his own unit so effective.

"The way they play defensive football, we're going to have some challenges," Franklin said. "You're going to be watching two of the best defensive coordinators in college football. Which probably doesn't get any more Big Ten than that, defensive football."

Jerry Sandusky denied new trial on child sex abuse charges

AP Images

Jerry Sandusky denied new trial on child sex abuse charges

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Jerry Sandusky lost a bid Wednesday for a new trial and a second chance to convince a jury he is innocent of the child sexual abuse charges that landed him in state prison to serve a lengthy sentence.

Judge John Foradora denied Sandusky's requests for a new trial or for dismissal of charges.

The former Penn State assistant football coach's lawyers said they were disappointed and planned to appeal the decision to Superior Court.

"The court's decision is not the end of Jerry's case, it is only the closing of a chapter which we need to go through in the course of our endeavor to obtain a new trial, a reversal of his conviction, and ultimately his release and vindication," said defense attorney Al Lindsay.

Sandusky, 73, has consistently maintained he was wrongly convicted. He argued that he did not receive adequate representation at his 2012 trial and that prosecutors should have disclosed more details about changes to victims' stories.

"Although he was denied access to the victims' psychological records, Sandusky was permitted to call witnesses to explore whether the victims had undergone repressed memory therapy prior to trial, and he did explore that subject" with victims and other witnesses, Foradora wrote.

Foradora also rejected arguments that Sandusky's lawyers should not have let him waive a preliminary hearing, should not have allowed him to give a television interview after his arrest, and should have done more to challenge the identity of a young man described as Victim 2 in court records.

The judge said the bulk of Sandusky's claims lacked merit.

"Those that remain, whether they fail for want of prejudice or because (trial defense attorney Joe) Amendola's actions or failure to act were informed by a reasonable strategy, do not combine to call into question the overall effectiveness of the defense counsel provided or the legitimacy of the verdict," Foradora concluded.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said prosecutors have "achieved justice" for Sandusky's victims and are confident the convictions will stand.

"Hopefully, today's decision will allow the victims of Mr. Sandusky to live their lives knowing that this serial sexual abuser will remain behind bars," said Shapiro, a Democrat.

Sandusky has been serving a 30- to 60-year sentence. Eight of his accusers testified at trial, describing abuse that ranged from grooming and fondling to violent sexual attacks.

The case, among the biggest scandals in college football history, led to major changes at Penn State and new state laws governing child abuse in Pennsylvania and other states.

Sandusky spent three decades at the university as an assistant to Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno before retiring in 1999.

The decision follows previous rulings against Sandusky by the state's Supreme and Superior courts.

Foradora was brought in nearly a year ago after the trial judge, John Cleland, removed himself in response to sharp criticism by Sandusky's lawyers of a meeting that Cleland participated in before Sandusky waived a preliminary hearing in 2011.

Penn State's former president, Graham Spanier, and two other ex-administrators, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, were sentenced to jail time earlier this year after Spanier was found guilty and the others pleaded guilty to child endangerment for their handling of a 2001 complaint about Sandusky showering with a boy. Spanier is free on bail while he appeals his conviction.

The scandal has cost Penn State more than $200 million in fines, settlements and other costs, and the football program was hit with significant NCAA penalties that were later dialed back.