Penn State quarterback may not pass ‘eyeball test,’ but talent runs deep

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, shown scrambling away from pressure during a game against Wisconsin earlier this season, passed for 3,360 yards to break the Nittany Lions' season record.

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, shown scrambling away from pressure during a game against Wisconsin earlier this season, passed for 3,360 yards to break the Nittany Lions’ season record.

(Sam Riche / Tribune News Service)

Trace McSorley doesn’t look like a prototypical quarterback at first glance, never mind one who throws some of the country’s best deep balls.

Penn State’s roster lists the third-year sophomore at 6 feet tall and, in person, he seems even shorter. Most schools recruited him as a safety. But Penn State Coach James Franklin said he believed McSorley had the opportunity to make a difference at quarterback.

“Really the only thing Trace is lacking is height,” Franklin said Saturday in his final news conference before Monday’s Rose Bowl against USC.

Ranked as the 60th-best athlete in the 2014 recruiting class by ESPN, McSorley originally committed to play for Franklin at Vanderbilt, then followed the coach to Penn State. McSorley rewarded Franklin’s faith this season — the quarterback’s first as the starter — passing for 3,360 yards to break Penn State’s single-season record. That included leading the country in yards per completion (16.3), helped by connecting on 61 passes of 20 yards or more.


Franklin sees McSorley as an example of the need to look beyond first impressions of a player like height, strength or body type — the so-called eyeball test. While the quarterback isn’t a towering presence in the pocket, he’s accurate, mobile, poised and competitive.

“I think what happens is with coaches we spend so much time and make mistakes one way or the other based on the eyeball test,” Franklin said. “I think as coaches you can get intoxicated by certain things and the most important thing is that you focus on the key ingredients that are going to allow guys to be successful or not. Obviously, we’re happy that we got him.”

Franklin talks suspensions

Last week, Penn State suspended linebacker Manny Bowen and wide receiver Saeed Blacknall for the Rose Bowl after the they violated team rules. Franklin sees it as a continuation of challenges his team faced throughout the season when a variety of obstacles — mainly injuries — repeatedly left the team shorthanded.


“So, you never want to be down players, but on the same hand, I think we’ve done a good job of developing talent and also developing confidence and depth,” Franklin said. “And guys need to step up.”

Koa Farmer, raised in Lake View Terrace, will start in place of Bowen. Cam Brown, who played sparingly in the season’s final month, will see more time, as well.

On the offensive side, DeAndre Thompkins helped fill in for Blacknall earlier this season when he missed five games because of injury and should see extended time Monday.

What’s in a name?


The question is a familiar one for Marcus Allen. And, no, the Penn State junior safety isn’t related to the former USC and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back of the same name.

“Everyone always used to be like, ‘You know the real Marcus Allen?’ Like I’m not the real Marcus Allen,” he said. “But I know who you’re talking about when you’re talking about the real Marcus Allen.”

The younger Allen followed USC as a youngster in Upper Marlboro, Md., but the Trojans didn’t offer a scholarship during the recruiting process.

Quick hits


Franklin isn’t much for sightseeing. The coach left the team hotel in downtown Los Angeles for a brief walk Friday, his first trip off the premises that wasn’t connected to the Rose Bowl. ... Franklin did carve out time to order room service and watch Florida State edge Michigan in the Orange Bowl. He regularly messages team staffers during the downtime. On Friday, that included asking his video crew to cut a clip of a player reaching with the football for a first down. Franklin isn’t shy about his distaste for the habit. ... The coach has his eye on a souvenir from the trip. “I would really appreciate one of these Rose Bowl helmets for my man cave,” Franklin said, pointing to the silver helmet that served as a prop during his news conference Saturday.

Twitter: @nathanfenno