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The Ohio State defense will square off against a much-improved Trace McSorley

Penn State’s quarterback can do it all.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t the same Trace McSorley who completed only 8-of-23 pass attempts in last year’s upset over the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes. Even though all four of his receivers who caught passes had long receptions of at least 20-yards that night, he was still inexperienced and was unable to consistently move the chains through the air.

With a full year of experience under his belt, McSorley has vastly improved as a passer. Most notably, his completion percentage has jumped from 57.9 percent to 66.8 percent, and he passes the eye test when he’s in the pocket.

During his destruction of Michigan’s defense on Saturday, McSorley carved up Don Brown’s vaunted secondary to the tune of 282 yards on 65 percent passing, while adding four total touchdowns. The Nittany Lions still air it out downfield, but they’re much harder to defend than they were last season.

Trace McSorley Passing Chart vs Michigan

Designed Runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions Total TD Scrambles Overthrows Throwaways
Designed Runs Dropbacks Completions Incompletions Total TD Scrambles Overthrows Throwaways
7 31 17 10 4 2 4 1
Pressured Sacked Hit PBU Batted at LOS Drops Turnovers Defensive PI
9 2 5 1 1 1 1 0
  • Looking at the chart above, it surprised me how much pressure the Penn State offensive line allowed. Sure, Michigan is talented up front, but McSorley was pressured on 29 percent of his dropbacks and he was actually hit on his first three dropbacks. This is an area where the beastly Ohio State defensive line has the obvious edge against Penn State.
  • They ran this Wildcat wrinkle a handful of times, where Saquon Barkley lined up at quarterback with McSorley lined up at running back. It worked on the second play from scrimmage when the Michigan linebackers actually fell for the “zone read” fake to McSorley, leaving a cutback lane for Barkley for one of the easier 69-yard touchdowns you’ll ever see. However, Michigan made the adjustments and this formation didn’t do much the remainder of the game. Expect to see some of it on Saturday with trick play stemming off of it — a McSorley HB pass?
  • It helps having one of the most talented running backs in Big Ten history in the backfield, but McSorley definitely takes advantage of over-aggressive defenses in the zone read. Below, keep an eye on the two Michigan linebackers as they flow towards Barkley, leaving a lane for McSorley to drive a bus through. The quarterback made the defense pay with his wheels. For the Buckeyes, it will be important to always keep an eye on Barkley, but they also have to understand that the quarterback has viable legs that can beat them for big yardage. This is a tough quarterback/running back combo to defend, and it will take a big week from Tate Martell to replicate McSorley in practice.
  • If there’s anything that’s consistent with McSorley’s game from last season, it’s his tendency to put too much trust into his receivers to come down with ‘arm punts.’ His receivers possess terrific ball skills, but these have to come back to bite him in a big spot, right? Greg Schiano and Kerry Coombs have to drill it into their defensive back’s heads to get their head around and find the football when it’s in the air. If they don’t, there will be a bunch of pass interference calls or they’ll get moss’d by Mike Gesicki and co.
  • For every ‘arm punt’ McSorley attempts, he’s also a very accurate downfield passer. As noted above, he trusts his receivers to make plays downfield, but he also has the accuracy to give his receivers a chance to make a play on the football. As shown below, McSorley trusts his arm on third-and-eight to go vertical and complete this ball against tight man coverage.

As one can see, Trace McSorley’s confidence is at an all-time high. He’s making defenses pay through the air and on the ground, with improved accuracy and the utmost confidence in both his arm and his pass catchers. The Ohio State secondary is going to be tested downfield, and they’ll have to play disciplined and smart to limit these receivers. Don’t expect this quarterback to complete 35-percent of his throws again.