Tomorrow will be the first look for fans to see the installment of Penn State’s offense under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. With the change of offenses and coaches, obviously comes a change at quarterback because of the graduation of Christian Hackenberg. James Franklin has deemed it a two-man race between Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens.
The first candidate is a more familiar face. McSorley is a six foot 199-pound sophomore who saw brief snaps in 2015 and is fresh off an impressive performance in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia. McSorley was called upon when Hackenberg went down with an injury in the second quarter and the Nittany Lions were knotted up at 3. McSorley would get off to a slow start and would find his team trailing the Bulldogs 24 to 10 in the final quarter. That’s when he would settle in. The redshirt freshman showed pinpoint accuracy and glimpses of what he can do out of the pocket to bring Penn State within seven. The Nittany Lions had one last chance but a Hail Mary attempt came up short.
The comeback and performance of McSorley delighted Penn State fans and gave a shot of confidence heading into this season. With the firing of offensive coordinator John Donovan after the final regular season game of the year the thought of a new offensive system that lent itself to mobile quarterbacks further raised enthusiasm for the future of McSorley. Franklin did just that, hiring Joe Moorhead, who implements a spread read offensive attack.
One would think McSorley had the job locked up after his performance in the TaxSlayer Bowl, but in comes redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens. Stevens, like McSorley has the tools to cater to Moorhead’s scheme. At a glimpse, Stevens stature is much more of a prototypical quarterback (6”4, 219 pounds). Franklin has lauded the offseason of Stevens and loves his upside.
“Tommy has got a really good feel for finding open receivers and throwing for a high percentage,” said Franklin. “He is not always technically doing exactly what he is supposed to do. He is almost like a point guard, but he may be reading the wrong side of the field. If you don’t know what the quarterback’s progression is supposed to be he is productive and a playmaker.”
On the other hand, Franklin likes the feel McSorley has for the offense.
“Trace is the same way. He is just more consistent with his responsibilities and execution right now.”
A concern for many is McSorley’s size and strength, but that is exactly what he focused on this offseason. He says he spent extensive time working with the strength staff working on quarterback specific exercises to strengthen his arm. All the while getting together with receivers two times a week to work on routes.
“Just working with the receivers on chemistry and timing,” said McSorley. “Having the receivers holding their line and dropping the ball over their shoulder.”
Arm strength is no question for the bigger Stevens, but sharpening the nuances of the quarterback position is his biggest focus as had Franklin mentioned.
Stevens explained that he spent all last year involved in games by signaling in plays and learning from Hackenberg and McSorley. He mentioned that it took some transitioning from high school.
“The biggest thing was the mental capacity. In high school I didn’t do too much as far as reading defenses, signaling protections, and knowing coverages.”
Both quarterbacks ran similar offenses in high school and mentioned the learning curve has not been all too bad for themselves and the offense.
“It has been fun, I really like being able to do that. Puts the defense in a bind, and in way they can’t be right”
“It’s (Run, Pass, Option) heavily involved in our offense. I really like doing it because it is kind of like the things I was doing back in high school, I am comfortable with it.”
The performances of either quarterback should not be an indication for who will be taking the snaps this fall, rather a glimpse of what each signal caller brings to the table. It should also be a scaled down version of Moorhead’s up tempo offense, as to not tip his hat to opponents. Franklin expects this position battle to play out for the long run, but for now just enjoy the show.