McSorley, offense leave room to grow

UNIVERSITY PARK – Almost the entire time he was watching Christian Hackenberg lead the Penn State offense the last two years, James Franklin never let go of his opinion that a running quarterback puts added pressure on the opposing defense.

We saw some of that Saturday.

Trace McSorley made his first career start, and he accounted for 256 yards of offense in the Nittany Lions’ 33-13 win over Kent State on a perfect Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.

Perfect weather, that is.

McSorley answered the bottom line in that he played well enough to do his part in leading a victory, throwing for 209 yards including two touchdowns and no interceptions, and running for another 47 on 14 options/scrambles.

“Trace managed things well for his first game,” Franklin said. “It was a good starting point, but it was nowhere near where he wants to be and where we need him to be. He’s got a lot more ability than he showed today.”

Two of the Lions’ touchdowns came off play-action calls that helped freeze the defense because it had to respect McSorley’s ability, unlike last year when Hackenberg was not a threat to run.

The first came on a nifty 4-yard touchdown slant to DaeSean Hamilton, the other was Saquon Barkley’s 7-yard score.

“We’re going to be aggressive at the quarterback position,” Franklin said. “It’s obviously a little bit different than the style we’ve had at Penn State, but that’s how we’re going to play.”

McSorley wasn’t elated or disappointed in his performance.

“It was a success in that we won the game,” he said.

His fumble on fourth-and-1 at the Kent 8, when a touchdown would have put the Lions up 30-13, stymied momentum and was a signal at what the Lions will be seeing on a weekly basis.

“They were staying in the box and bringing pressure,” McSorley said. “It’s something we have to adjust to.”

“We saw a defense that we’ll probably see a lot of,” Franklin said. “When you get in that type of game, we’re going to take shots up the field. We need to hit more (passes), and we need to sustain blocks and finish things better.”

In addition to the fumble, the Lions twice settled for field goals inside the Kent State 10, including when McSorley missed a wide-open Mike Gesicki in the end zone on first-and-goal from the Kent 6 late in the first half.

McSorley didn’t lose his sense of humor, saying Gesicki was so wide open “he came out of a helicopter.”

Or so it seemed, but the quarterback rushed his throw.

All of that said, he barely missed a couple deep balls, endured a couple drops and at least gets a passing grade for his debut.

Franklin admitted a sharper offensive performance would have given the Lions 50 points.

“We’ve got to score touchdowns,” he said. “We can’t score field goals in the red zone. We left between 14 and 21 points on the board.”

And yet, with a first-time starter and the implementation of new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s no-huddle offense, few expected a pinball-machine score.

“We faced a really good defense and did some good things, but we’ve got to work to do to be where we want to be,” center and offensive captain Brian Gaia said. “One of the biggest things is our execution in the red zone has to be much better.

“For the first game,” he added, “there’s obviously going to be a learning curve.”

One that now bends southwest and leads to Heinz Field.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.