James Franklin defends play of Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley

  • Quarterback Trace McSorley has led Penn State to a 5-0 start this season.
  • McSorley is completing 65.6 percent of his passes with 12 TDs and four interceptions.
  • Penn State will take on Northwestern on Saturday.

James Franklin likes that Trace McSorley’s numbers for the first five games this season mostly exceed the numbers from his first five games of 2016. But his favorite statistic of all for the redshirt junior quarterback can be found in the Penn State win column.

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley has led the Nittany Lions to a 5-0 start in 2017.

“Last year, the first five games, our record was 3-2,” the Nittany Lions head coach said at his Tuesday news conference. “Right now our record is 5-0. I think the most important stat that you have as a quarterback is wins, and he’s 5-0 compared to 3-2. So I think to me the discussion should end right there.”

Franklin's statement likely came in response to many PSU fans publicly wondering what is wrong with McSorley. His coaches have been adamant in their view that the answer is nothing. 

But Franklin then went further with the statistics. Through five games of 2016, McSorley was completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,284 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. After Saturday’s win over Indiana improved the Lions’ record to 5-0, McSorley’s numbers were 65.6 percent completion rate, 1,352 yards, 12 touchdowns and four picks.

“I don’t think it’s even close, kind of in every category that you can look at,” Franklin said. “If you compare it to the first five games of last year, he’s by far ahead. I think he’s pretty much better in every metric possible.”

With the running game stalled last Saturday, McSorley took to the air to spark the Nittany Lions’ 45-14 win. He threw two touchdown passes and ran for one while completing 23 of 36 passes for a season-high 315 yards, his second 300-yard performance of the year.

Entering Saturday’s game at Northwestern, his best rankings in this week’s FBS statistics are tied for 10th in touchdown passes, tied for 12th in points responsible for with 18 per game (12 TD passes, 3 TD runs) and 19th in total offense with 306.2 yards per game.

HEISER: To beat elite foes, Penn State will need better version of Trace McSorley

McSorley said the experience he has gained in Joe Moorhead’s up-tempo offense has helped.

“I think it’s not forcing anything, taking what the defense is giving me, and doing a lot better job of reading defenses,” he said Wednesday. “There’s been times where we’ve had some issues offensively and honestly I’d say a lot of that does fall on me, so there’s definitely room for me to improve.

“But for kind of where I was at this point last year … now I think I’m doing a better job of going through my progressions and finding the open guy.”

What also has helped McSorley is that his relationship with Moorhead “is continuing to grow and get better.”

“It’s definitely better now when I’m coming off to the sideline after plays and we’re talking through reads,” he said. “With the looks we get from the booth, we kind of chart those out and we talk about those — if I’m seeing something, and what he’s seeing and how he wants to attack those looks.

“So it’s continuing to get better, kind of understanding how he is as a coach for me, and he kind of knows how I am as a player and how I react to certain situations.”

Franklin said McSorley is “making great decisions with the ball.”

“It’s knowing when to hang in the pocket and knowing when to take off and run, all those types of things,” he said. “Really, over the last year and a half, he’s been really good in those areas and we want to continue to build on it.”