STATE COLLEGE — James Franklin offered up the highest of praise for his quarterback Saturday night.
“Trace McSorley, he’s the best player in college football,” Penn State’s head coach said. “I don’t care what anybody says. He’s as tough as it gets.”
The senior showed why Saturday, coming back from what looked like a devastating leg injury in the second quarter to lead No. 17 Penn State to a 30-24 victory over No. 18 Iowa at Beaver Stadium.
McSorley ended the game with his usual strong statistics line, throwing for 167 yards, rushing for 63 more and picking up a passing and rushing touchdown in the same game for the 20th time in his illustrious career with the Nittany Lions. Franklin said that only told a fraction of the story.
McSorley twisted awkwardly after being sacked by Iowa ends Anthony Nelson and Chauncey Golston, the seemingly bulletproof captain staying on the ground and grabbing his right knee. He was replaced for two series by backup Tommy Stevens, but McSorley limped out of the medical tent, jogged along the sidelines and ran one unsuccessful series before the half. But he started the second half and helped Penn State break a 17-17 tie, ripping off a career-long-tying 51-yard touchdown run, running untouched up the Penn State sideline with the help of a block from Lake-Lehman grad Connor McGovern.
For what it’s worth, Franklin said he and the rest of the staff debated keeping Stevens on the field. He did, after all, tie the score with a 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. But McSorley’s gravitas got him a second look.
“We want Trace McSorley on the field, but we’ve got a lot of confidence in Tommy Stevens and a lot of confidence in (third-stringer) Sean Clifford,” Franklin said. “To be honest with you, we weren’t sure. But we just felt like Trace has earned the right to tell us if he thinks he can go. I told him, ‘I need the whole package.’ You can’t just turn into a pro-style quarterback sitting in the pocket now. I have to have more than that.”
McSorley said he had no choice but to be honest with himself, and felt once he got comfortable running and cutting, he’d be back to his normal self enough to test it in game action.
“I wanted to be in there. There was nothing more I wanted to do,” McSorley said. “I didn’t want to sit there, in my uniform, and not be playing. In my mind, if I was going to be dressed for the game and in my uniform and shoulder pads and all that, I was going in. You only get so many opportunities to do that, and there are only so many opportunities left. … If I could play, I was going to.”
He did, although he wore a knee brace in the second half for the first time since his sophomore season. He said he’d need to see how things felt in practice this week to determine if he’d be wearing that brace next week when the Nittany Lions face Michigan.
Out of nowhere
Freshman kicker Jake Pinegar hadn’t made a field goal from longer than 39 yards this season. Apparently, it’s not because he doesn’t have the range.
Pinegar became the first kicker since Sam Ficken in 2014 to hit three field goals of longer than 40 yards, connecting from 45, 49 and 44 yards Saturday. He has now made 6 of his last 7 field goal attempts.
“To see a young man from Iowa (Pinegar) to come up as big as he came up today,” Franklin said, “it was huge for us.”
Iowa scored 24 points Saturday and had a chance to win on a last-minute drive. But, it didn’t score a touchdown against Penn State’s defense.
Two safeties, a touchdown on a fake field goal and an interception for a score combined with two Miguel Recinos field goals to give the Hawkeyes their points, a fact that Franklin looked back on with chagrin.
“We didn’t always play smart, especially early on in the game,”he said.
Yet again, a special teams gaffe led to a score, when punter Colten Rastetter lofted a touchdown pass to defensive end Sam Brincks to give the Hawkeyes a 12-0 first-quarter lead.
Franklin said the Nittany Lions practiced to defend that possibility all week — two weeks after making a similar statement when Michigan State scored a special teams touchdown — but insisted Iowa deserved credit for the execution of the play.
“It’s not frustrating; you just keep working,” Franklin said. “That guy made an unbelievable catch, No. 90. You don’t see too many
No. 90s making a catch exactly over the shoulder. They’re on scholarship, too. Awesome play by them.”
Penn State’s last four games have been decided by a combined 16 points, and all have been decided by six points or less.
The last time the Nittany Lions played in four straight games decided by six points or less: Nov. 10-24, 1894, when they tied Navy, then beat Bucknell and Washington & Jefferson by six before finishing with a three-point triumph over Oberlin.
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Source: The Associated Press