McSorley sure new cast can keep Penn State among the elite

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Trace McSorley sported a different look at No. 10 Penn State’s practice this week. Otherwise, it was the same McSorley that the Nittany Lions have come to expect.

Wearing a clear visor for the first time, the Penn State quarterback burned the scout team defense in red zone 11-on-11 work to cap Wednesday’s part of open practice. A dart over the middle for a 15-yard score preceded a pinpoint back-shoulder pass to Juwan Johnson just inside the pylon.

There’s no question the program’s all-time leader in nearly every passing category is ready for his final season. Literally.

Head coach James Franklin wasn’t asked a single one all week leading up to Saturday’s opener against Appalachian State. That wasn’t the case for Mountaineers coach Scott Satterfield, however. He has to find a way to stop the Heisman Trophy contender when the Mountaineers visit Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

“The quarterback’s unbelievable,” Satterfield said. “And the fact that he extends plays, to me, is more of a threat because of his legs. they utilize him. They call a lot of (quarterback) runs, but he can get the ball to the playmakers on the outside.”

McSorley’s consistent output has helped fuel Penn State’s rise. He’s thrown a touchdown pass in 28 straight games and needs 161 yards rushing to become the second Penn State quarterback with at least 1,000 career rushing and passing yards.

“When I got here, I had no idea what I was looking at and just being able to read defenses was a big step from high school to college,” McSorley said. “I think the biggest thing now for me is I trust what I see. I know what I’m seeing and I’m able to react instead of thinking about everything.”

He will be reading an Appalachian State secondary that features on of the better cornerbacks in the country in Clifton Duck.

But McSorley’s confidence hasn’t wavered despite losing star playmakers Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton. His confidence in his veteran offensive line, running back Miles Sanders and receivers DeAndre Thompkins and Johnson is just as high.

“It’s easier to get that buy-in, especially from these guys,” McSorley said. “I think that’s something to be said about the guys in the locker room, that it doesn’t really matter who is in there. That chemistry is always strong and we’re always going to be a tight-knit group.”

HEAVYWEIGHT BATTLE AT LB

Jan Johnson is expected to make his first career start at middle linebacker for the Nittany Lions. A fifth-year senior, Johnson has appeared in 12 games over his career but his most meaningful action for Penn State has come on wrestling mats.

Johnson stepped in for Penn State’s national championship team in 2015 after heavyweight starter Nick Nevills was injured. With the the weight limit for heavyweights topping out at 285 pounds, the then-220 pound Johnson often faced opponents who had double-digit weight advantages. He went 1-9.

Franklin called Johnson “one of the more intelligent players” on the roster but said he’d like to play multiple young linebackers on Saturday, including freshmen Micah Parsons and Ellis Brooks.  

“All those linebacker positions are going to be a battle all year long,” Franklin said. “But I don’t think there’s any doubt that Jan Johnson gives us the best opportunity to win on Saturday.”

SANDERS’ TIME

Sanders has been good when called on the last two seasons despite being in Barkley’s shadow. Now, the running back who was more heavily recruited than his predecessor will take over primary duties. Sanders knows the offense well, had a good camp and will line up behind a veteran offensive line with four returning starters.

MOORE TO DO

The Nittany Lions young defensive front will have to deal with 5-foot-11, 205-pound Jalin Moore, who has accounted for 54 points in his last four games. Only Washington’s Myles Gaskin has more career rushing yards than Moore’s 3,170 among active players in FBS.

REID’S RETURN

Cornerback John Reid played more snaps than any Penn State player in 2016. He didn’t play a single down last year due to a knee injury. His return should boost a secondary that will feature three new starters.