Trace McSorley

Penn State crushes Maryland to finish regular season 'a bittersweet 10-2'

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Penn State crushes Maryland to finish regular season 'a bittersweet 10-2'

BOX SCORE

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Penn State’s regular season closed Saturday with a 66-3 embarrassment of Maryland (see observations).

The Nittany Lions are 10-2, with a high-profile bowl game ahead. They have outscored their last three opponents, 157-53, and all 12 by a whopping 499-186 margin.

Yet none of that can obscure a certain sense of unfulfillment — that a play here or a play there in the losses to Ohio State (by one) and Michigan State (by three), and their season would look very different.

“That’s the tough thing,” quarterback Trace McSorley said. “It’s 10-2, but it’s almost a bittersweet 10-2 because you know it could have been better and we wish it had been. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get it done in a couple games this year.”

He went on to say he and his teammates are happy with 10-2. Really, they are. It comes on the heels of last year’s 11-3 finish, and coach James Franklin was quick to remind reporters that on only two other occasions have the Lions enjoyed back-to-back double-digit victory seasons since joining the Big Ten in 1993.

He also refused to ponder what might have been. Maybe that was posturing. Maybe that was genuine. Maybe it helps him sleep at night.

Whatever the case, that’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.

“I’m excited about being 1-0 tonight, and I’m excited about 10 wins,” he said. “I’m going to focus on the positive, not the woulda/coulda/shouldas. Because we can’t affect them, right?”

Fair enough. But that will not stop the folks in the stands or the press box from playing the what-if game. From wondering what might have happened if a fourth-quarter punt had not been blocked at Ohio State, or if there had not been a three-and-a-half-hour lightning delay at Michigan State.

Franklin acknowledged the latter game was “a mess,” but emphasized that that was no excuse.

“We didn’t play well enough,” he said. “It was a perfect storm of issues.”

That was true right up to the point that safety Marcus Allen drew a roughing-the-passer penalty, allowing the Spartans to move into position for the decisive field goal at the gun.

Speaking of what-ifs.

Another played out Saturday. Tommy Stevens, McSorley’s backup and a guy often employed in the so-called “slash” role this season — i.e., quarterback-slash-running back-slash-receiver — ran for the day’s first touchdown when he was inserted in the backfield with McSorley and star running back Saquon Barkley. 

Stevens also threw a pass and caught one in the first half, then replaced McSorley for good late in the third quarter. In all, he ran 12 times for 113 yards and three scores, went 3 of 7 for 11 yards and another TD and had that lone reception.

Stevens now has rushed for four scores, passed for three and caught passes resulting in two this season. Yet he didn’t play in either loss (as well as three other games), a what-if unto itself: Couldn’t he, perhaps, have tipped the balance in PSU’s favor?

Asked if he might have been chomping at the bit when the Lions faced the Buckeyes or Spartans, Stevens took the diplomatic route.

“It’s in the past,” he said. “I’ve gotten past that.”

Franklin said the Lions typically have a “high red zone package” for Stevens, and that offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead inserts him as he sees fit — that it depends on down and distance, flow of the game, etc.

“We’ve got a pretty good quarterback in Trace McSorley,” Franklin said. “We’ve got a damn good quarterback in our backup quarterback, in Tommy Stevens. But you have to be careful. Sometimes when you get in a two-quarterback system it can mess up the flow. I think we’ve handled it pretty well this year, and I could see this package continuing to grow for us.”

The team’s growth continues as well.

“I like where we’re at, but I still think we’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” he said. “I still think we can get better. That’s still the exciting part of all of this.”

They will need to get better, given the fast company they keep in the Big Ten East. Also given the personnel losses ahead. Foundational players like Allen, linebacker Jason Cabinda and tight end Mike Gesicki will be gone next year. Barkley probably will be, too.

“So,” Franklin said, “we’ve just got to continue scraping and clawing and scratching for every little inch that we can find because to get where we want to go, it’s still going to be a slow, steady crawl. And I’d make the argument that it’s going to be harder, these next steps, than what we’ve already done. Should be an interesting ride.”

It’s the only what-if he would allow himself — the one about what might lie ahead.

The rest of us, meanwhile, can afford to take a backward glance.

No. 10 Penn State-Maryland: Nittany Lions' last chance to build résumé

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No. 10 Penn State-Maryland: Nittany Lions' last chance to build résumé

No. 10 Penn State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. Maryland (4-7, 2-6 Big Ten)
Byrd Stadium, College Park, Maryland
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Scouting Penn State
The No. 10 Nittany Lions beat Nebraska, 56-44, last week as Saquon Barkley generated 224 all-purpose yards, 157 of them coming on the ground. Barkley, who ran for three scores, exceeded the 1,000-yard mark for the third straight season and was named Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week. Trace McSorley has completed 65.2 percent of his passes to date, for a Big Ten-leading 2,991 yards and 24 touchdowns. He has been intercepted eight times. Coach James Franklin said earlier this week that linebacker Manny Bowen will miss his third straight game for what Franklin has called a violation of team rules. Franklin also said he hopes to have defensive end Ryan Buchholz back. He has missed the last three games after suffering an undisclosed leg injury early in the Oct. 28 loss at Ohio State. The status of offensive tackle Ryan Bates is less certain. He too suffered a leg injury against the Buckeyes and has been out the last three weeks.

Scouting Maryland
The Terrapins fell last week in the snow at Michigan State, 17-7, their third straight loss and their sixth defeat in the last seven games. Max Bortenschlager, one of four quarterbacks to start for Maryland this season, returned after missing the previous game with a head injury. He has clicked on 51.3 percent of his passes this season, for 1,128 yards and 10 touchdowns, while being intercepted five times. D.J. Moore (72 catches, 933 yards, eight TDs) leads the Big Ten in receiving, while Ty Johnson (805 yards, 6.2 per attempt) is eighth in rushing. Maryland is no better than 12th in the conference in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense or passing defense.

History
PSU leads the all-time series, 37-2-1, and has won the last two meetings. The score last season was 38-14.

Storyline to watch
It is likely to be the final regular-season game for Barkley, who has firmly established himself as one of the great players in school history.

What’s at stake
The Lions will seek to fill in the final lines on their résumé in hopes of earning a bid to a New Year’s Day bowl.

Prediction
Penn State, 45-14.

No. 14 Penn State-Rutgers observations: Nittany Lions snap 2-game losing streak

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No. 14 Penn State-Rutgers observations: Nittany Lions snap 2-game losing streak

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Trace McSorley passed for two touchdowns and ran for another as No. 14 Penn State drubbed Rutgers, 35-6, Saturday afternoon.

With the Scarlet Knights focusing their defensive attention on running back Saquon Barkley, McSorley hit 16 of 21 passes for 214 yards, and ran 13 times for 44 yards, as the Nittany Lions (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) snapped a two-game losing streak.

His TD passes covered 22 yards to DaeSean Hamilton in the second quarter and 16 yards to Mike Gesicki in the fourth. His scoring run was a 20-yarder.

Barkley, who managed a season-low 35 yards on 14 carries, did run for two short TDs in the third quarter.

Andrew Harte kicked two field goals for Rutgers (4-6, 3-4), which lost its 11th straight to the Nittany Lions.

• Rutgers entered the game with the Big Ten’s second-worst rushing defense, allowing 179.6 yards a game. The Knights nonetheless bottled up Barkley — especially in the first half, when he managed minus-3 yards on five attempts.

• PSU trailed 3-0 after a quarter, but McSorley keyed second-quarter touchdown drives of 65 and 74 yards. He capped the first with his TD run and the second with the scoring strike to Hamilton.

• Barkley’s two scoring runs, covering one and four yards, came in the third quarter that saw the Lions outgain the Knights 88-9 while extending their lead to 28-6. His first TD run came two snaps after a gadget play. On 3rd-and-9 from the Rutgers 15, McSorley hit Hamilton with a short pass, and he pitched to Barkley, who hurdled a tackler while advancing to the 1. 

• Scarlet Knights kicker Justin Davidovicz hit the opening kickoff short and high, and when no one on Penn State’s return team handled the ball it was recovered by RU’s Lawrence Stevens at the 21. Four plays later Andrew Harte hit a 33-yard field goal, giving the Knights their first lead over Penn State since 2014.

• Knights quarterback Gio Rescigno created problems with his legs, notably on a 15-play, 57-yard field goal march in the second quarter. Rescigno converted a 4th-and-1 from the Rutgers 44 with a three-yard sneak, and later scurried about the pocket before completing a 12-yard pass to Mohamed Jabbie on 3rd-and-9. Harte later kicked a 25-yard field goal.

• The game was marked by numerous special-teams misadventures. Penn State’s Tyler Davis knocked two kickoffs out of bounds, and Davidovicz did so once, setting up a PSU touchdown drive. RU’s Janarion Grant also fumbled the second-half kickoff — on a hit by Davis, no less — but the Lions were unable to capitalize. Finally, PSU cornerback Christian Campbell recovered an onside kick in the third quarter but was offsides.