Record-setter Trace McSorley to get more chances with Penn State offense
STATE COLLEGE — Trace McSorley holds numerous Penn State passing records and will have more chances to add to his legacy with co-stars Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki gone.
But finding go-to teammates who can replace Barkley's and Gesicki's production — nearly 40 percent of the offense since 2015 — didn't top McSorley's priority list during spring practice. Instead, he spent the last month reminding his teammates on the offensive side of the ball that they still have plenty to prove.
“Everyone's saying we're not going to be as good because we're losing guys,” McSorley said after the team's spring game Saturday. “I think that is the challenge, being able to put that chip back on our shoulders as an offense.”
McSorley got a head start carrying a bigger load in his first showing without Barkley and Gesicki. He played four series and completed 10 of 14 passes for 107 yards with a touchdown. McSorley saw extended time with backup Tommy Stevens out for precautionary reasons following a leg injury earlier this spring.
McSorley, who's been one of the nation's steadiest players in the clutch as the Nittany Lions have won 20 of their last 23 games, said he doesn't feel obligated to do more without Barkley's freakish athleticism and Gesicki's explosiveness downfield.
Although the star running back and big tight end could both be early picks in the NFL draft, McSorley said he's seen plenty of evidence this spring the offense can keep burning defenses without them.
Under offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead the last two seasons, Penn State scored at least 31 points in 18 of the last 20 games and churned out 12,040 yards during Moorhead's tenure, including a combined 5,043 by Barkley and Gesicki.
“The formula right here, right now has been good,” McSorley said. “So being able to come in with that same work ethic, that same mentality, understanding that we've got some young guys that we need to bring up to speed, and there's going to be a lot of work put in to regain our chemistry across the board because of losing two guys, but no, not feeling any more pressure.”
Moorhead left to become Mississippi State's coach before Penn State's Fiesta Bowl win over Washington. His replacement, former assistant Ricky Rahne, isn't feeling the pressure to live up to Moorhead's cerebral approach and highlight-reel results either.
“The one thing that I need to keep telling myself is, ‘You can't get bored,' ” Rahne said. “It's okay to run the same play 15, 16 times because it works.”
Known as a prolific notetaker, Rahne found it easier to stave off boredom as spring practice progressed as he mixed and matched personnel to get a feel for what his offense might look like without Barkley's dazzling skillset and Gesicki's ability to beat defenders to deep passes.
Running back Miles Sanders, a Woodland Hills grad, will play a big part.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 211 pounds, the junior runs with strength and balance and opened eyes all spring with his ability to beat teammates to any spot on the field. He's done most of his damage on special teams but has had 56 carries for 375 yards the past two seasons. He carried the ball just three times for six yards Saturday.
“I had to be patient behind Saquon,” Sanders said. “So I'm hungry for this season. At the end of the day, everyone is hungry too. We lost a lot of big roles so everybody is stepping up.”
That includes a handful of young wideouts.
Freshmen KJ Hamler and Mac Hippenhammer were the most active skill position players in the scrimmage and both raised eyebrows this spring, Hamler for his speed and route-running and Hippenhammer for making the school's baseball team.
They combined to catch seven passes for 80 yards, and Hippenhammer scored twice Saturday.
“At some point, those guys are going to have to play for us this year and they're going to play in a critical moment that's going to determine whether we win championships,” Rahne said. “So we've got to make sure they're ready to play.”