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Nobody knows what Drew Allar will encounter as rookie starting QB better than Trace McSorley

Nothing in sport quite compares to a rookie season as a starting quarterback. The newbie in question can attempt to book up for it, he can take as much advice as possible and write down directives until his hand cramps. But nothing substitutes for experience.
Because of the lengthy tenure of Drew Allar’s predecessor, Penn State hasn’t had this situation since 2019.
That’s when Trace McSorley departed for the NFL and his understudy Sean Clifford was taking over. So, four years ago, I went to Matt McGloin and Wally Richardson to ask for recollections of their rookie-starter seasons (2010 and 1995, respectively) and how they dealt with the ups and downs.
The notion I came away with was that prep work can only take you so far. Survival comes down to the constitution of the young quarterback.
Well, here we are with Allar finally acquiring the mantle from Clifford. And who volunteered to take a shot at this piece but the man Clifford replaced. And suddenly 2016 seems like a distant frame in the rear view.
“Yeah, it does seem like a while ago,” McSorley said from New England Patriots training camp. “Everything in between felt like it went by fast. But looking back, seven years ago, that is a while.”
McSorley might’ve had the most rollercoaster such season I can think of — the lows, the highs, a virtual lack of fan expectation followed by an upset of Ohio State and a stunning Big Ten championship, the only one of each in James Franklin’s nine seasons at PSU.
Much like Richardson, McSorley had a little bit of a head start thanks to a brief prior stint, forced into duty due to injury. If you’ll recall, McSorley was hustled into the post-2015 TaxSlayer Bowl in the second quarter against Georgia when Christian Hackenberg hurt his throwing shoulder on a scramble:
“It definitely did help going into that first game as a starter having that live in-game experience.”
It also probably helped down in Jacksonville not having to think about playing all week. McSorley was in the huddle almost before he knew it: “Everything happened so fast. [Hackenberg] landed hard on his shoulder and he was trying to shrug it off, and he even had one or two more plays. But then he waved over [toward the bench].”
Actually, Hackenberg threw four more passes after being driven onto his side by Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. He was clearly uncomfortable and rotating his throwing shoulder.
“Then at halftime I see him wearing sweats and street clothes and I’m like, ‘OK, he’s out for the game.’ ”
McSorley led a comeback from a 24-3 fourth-quarter deficit, firing TD passes to Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton to make it close. Under his command, the Lions got the ball back a final time with 1:52 left and converted a pair of 4th downs with no timeouts left. But they ultimately ran out of time.
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley throws a pass against Wisconsin during the first half of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)Abby Drey / Centre Daily Times via APPenn State quarterback Trace McSorley takes a moment in the end zone after his final game in Beaver Stadium in 2018.BRETT CARLSEN / GETTY IMAGESTrace McSorley #9 fakes a hand off to Saquon Barkley #26 of the Penn State Nittany Lions during the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes on November 5, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State defeats Iowa 41-14.Scott Taetsch / Getty ImagesPenn State quarterback Trace McSorley rushes for his second touchdown against the Maryland Terrapins at Beaver Stadium on Nov. 24, 2018, in State College. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)Show Caption of Expand
That 35 minutes of clock in a bowl against a very good Georgia defense was quite a bit more quality time than Allar had in his 2022 season, made almost entirely of mop-up duty.
But what about the 2016 opener? What are most difficult facets of being a full-time starter?
“There is a little bit of what I would call nervous excitement. It’s not like pregame jitters. It’s the first time where you are the starter. You want to go out and perform well and you feel that pressure. And that’s something you can’t replicate in a practice.”
Nor can you, a hostile environment.
“My first start was against Kent State at home. We have home fans behind us. We’re playing a MAC team that we’re heavily favored against [-22½].”
It was a nice leisurely ramp-up and the Lions won 33-13 as McSorley hit 16 of 31 passes for 209 yards and a score.
It was not so relaxed the following Saturday:
“But the next week is at Pitt and you’re going against a live enemy crowd with the rivalry behind it just getting reborn,” he said. “You can listen to loud crowd music and stuff in practice and make it as hard as you can. But it’s something you can’t replicate until you get out in the middle of angry fans screaming at you as you’re running out of the tunnel.”
And what sort of things were being yelled at him at Heinz Field?
“Things I can’t say in an interview. [laughter] There were a lot of things being said by that crowd,” he said. “That was a really good [Pittsburgh] team that year. They had James Conner at running back and Jordan Whitehead at safety and Avante Maddox at corner. I mean, they had some dudes on that team who’re still playing well [in the NFL] now.”
In fact, after taking that hot sweaty 42-39 donnybrook, the Panthers would be the only team to beat eventual national champion Clemson (43-42, as a +21 dog in Death Valley).
This is roughly comparable to what Allar might face in week 3 in the Big Ten opener at sudden West contender Illinois. How would McSorley counsel any 19- or 20-year-old kid in such a situation?
“The main thing I would say — and both Coach Franklin and Coach [Joe] Moorhead helped me out with this that week — is just control the things you can control. You can control your preparation. You can control how you get your body and mind right. Try to keep everything the same, the way you’ve always done it — your warmup, your process of putting your pads on, whatever makes you comfortable — do everything the same.
“All the other stuff that will be thrown at you pregame on Saturday — the crowd noise, whatever adversity strikes during the game — you’ll just have to adjust to it then, roll with the punches, take it in stride and come back and correct it when it’s time,” McSorley said.
All of that points to a businesslike approach both before and during the contest.
For three games against Kent, Pitt and Temple, everything went pretty well for McSorley and the Penn State offense — 33, 39 and 34 points; 19, 20 and 21 first downs.
But then came the disaster at Michigan, a 49-10 beatdown the severity of which — who knew then? — would ultimately cost the Lions a College Football Playoff bid. Was McSorley’s confidence knocked sideways?
“No, it wasn’t a confidence knock. I’d call it more of a realization of: OK, this is the level we need to be at. And we’re not there yet. We had some good games. Then Michigan blew the doors off of us. But I’d say it was more an eye-opening moment than a shot to our confidence.”
Did McSorley make a point of saying anything to his offensive teammates or even the whole team to bolster them?
“I don’t know if I exactly got up in front of the team and said anything. I think we all realized what happened at that Michigan game. So, there wasn’t anything that needed to be said, because you could feel the emotion of what just happened in the locker room. How everyone realized: OK, we’re not at the point maybe that everyone thought we’d be at, so we have to go back and get to work.”
And that’s what they did. There were film sessions among the offensive unit. There was honesty passed around about that debacle at Ann Arbor. There were discussions among the whole offense about the upcoming opponent Minnesota.
And despite falling behind 17-7 in the third quarter, the Lions responded behind McSorley’s long TD pass to Irv Charles, his late scramble to get in field position for a 40-yard Tyler Davis field goal to send it to overtime, then Saquon Barkley’s walk-off ramble for the 29-26 win. It turned the season around.
From then on, the Lions were flying and McSorley was unquestionably their pilot. The defense got healthy, especially when linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell returned for that legendary upset of 19-point favorite Ohio State. And the combination of McSorley, Barkley and a stacked receiving corps of Hamilton, Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall, DeAndre Thompkins and Mike Gesicki made Penn State one of the most dangerous quick-strike offenses in Big Ten history.
By the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin and then the Rose Bowl against Southern California, McSorley was driving a hot rod and loving it. It might’ve still technically been his first season as a starter, but he felt like it no longer. He had become one of the most prolific mad bombers in college football history, eluding rushers, keeping his eyes downfield and hitting one big play after another. His yards-per-completion figure for that 2016 season remains among NCAA historical leaders.
Was there a moment where he knew: I can do this?
“Honestly, there was never a point where I was not confident in what we were doing, like: I don’t know if I can do this. I always felt like I had that confidence that I can go out and perform and play well. There were enough moments early where I knew, if we could just be consistent, we could be a force to be reckoned with.”
McSorley said he has only spoken with Allar once, during a chance meeting at the Lasch complex in the spring of 2022. What general advice would he give Allar, or would it be pointless to even offer it? Is experience the only true teacher?
“I’d say for him: Keep the game as he’s always played it. I think it helped him to get a little live experience last year. He’s been around the team, practiced with guys, he knows the chemistry,” he said. “Just trust what he’s done the past few years, trust his preparation. He knows at this point how to prepare best for him, what gets him in the best mindset. And really, just control the things he can control. Be able to react to what happens during a game and not be thinking through it. Adversity will strike and just be able to react and bounce back from it.”
And if Allar ever contacted him, he’d be happy to lend a hand, and an ear:
“I don’t know if I will talk to him, but obviously if he were to reach out I’d answer whatever questions he had or help however I could. But he’s in a good situation. And he seems to be a pretty confident, hard-working kid. I think he’ll be ready for the moment.”
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Source: Morningcall

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