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Matchup to Watch: Penn State’s Trace McSorley vs. Iowa’s Amani Hooker

Trace McSorley stirs the Penn State Nittany Lions drink. There is no question about it. After Saquon Barkley’s departure (and Joe Moorhead, and Mike Gesicki, and DaeSean Hamilton’s), he was the last proven commodity left standing. He’s also the guy who had just enough at just the right time.

As we all know, the man he threw it over was Amani Hooker. I wonder how often he thinks about that play. He’ll have the chance to rectify it on Saturday and there’s reason to believe he’ll be the difference in the game.


The difference between McSorley’s 2017 and 2018 is night and day. Last year he was a hyper efficient passer with 28 touchdowns to 10 interceptions on 8.6 yards per attempt. He’s on pace for about 90% of his pass attempts from last year and has seen a significant dip in his percentage: 66.5% to 54.1%. Losing Barkley is part of it but Gesicki and Hamilton were the other two of the top four receivers. They represented 58% of the total completions and no one has proven nearly as reliable as them. Even Juwan Johnson has seen his numbers dip without so much attention being paid to other receivers.

Where McSorley has improved, is in the run game. His 5.7 yards per carry is a 2.3 yard improvement over last year’s 3.4. He’s reached 100 yards twice this season after never doing it once before. If Phil Parker’s 2017 gameplan is any indication of what Iowa will throw out on Saturday, it’ll mean a lot of McSorley runs. The 17 times he ran against the Hawkeyes last year were a season high. He’s eclipsed that number twice this year and with Miles Sanders’ limited versatility compared to Barkley, the run game has been the focus of this offense. His game against Ohio State is a nightmare scenario which brings back Iowa’s past failings against running QBs.

Which is where Amani Hooker comes into play. After injuries ravaged Iowa’s linebackers, Parker was forced to explore more creative options after offseason discussion alluded to a more regular look of 5 defensive backs on the field. In such a scenario, Hooker has been thrust into the “cash” position Iowa is calling it. With Penn State expected to run three wide receivers with regularity, it’s safe to assume Iowa would leverage this package as a counter to it.

Iowa’s OLB is already asked to do a lot. Nick Niemann has one sack this season and has been sent on blitzes with some regularity. If Hooker is put in such a situation, it’s imperative he not let McSorley break contain and gain some yards with his feet. In the run game, the position is often the one who funnels the runner back towards the middle if not outright stopping the play himself. With just 2.5 tackles for loss, Niemann leads the non-defensive linemen in the statistic despite missing time with injury.

Perhaps most importantly is the position’s requirement in pass defense as tight ends, slot receivers, and running backs can all fall under the position’s responsibilities. The game winning touchdown for Wisconsin (NSFW) attacked Niemann in coverage and the seam route is something Iowa can expect a heavy dose of with Penn State’s RPO offense.

Hooker is well-equipped, though. He leads the team in passes defended (5) and is tied with Riley Moss and Geno Stone with a team high 2 interceptions. He’s covered Hakeem Butler in the slot and was stressed in coverage against Indiana. Both of his interceptions have come from undercutting deep routes and if weather plays a factor, he’s likely to get a chance in this game.

Trace McSorley is the most unique quarterback Iowa has faced so far this season but Phil Parker has shown an ability to limit running quarterbacks of late. In the past three seasons, the only QBs to average more than 5 yards per carry against Iowa are Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Perry Hills. (Tommy Stevens averaged 14 against Iowa in 2016 as a Wildcat QB) McSorley is much better than each of those guys and can hurt opponents with his feet or arm. Amani Hooker has been the rockstar of Iowa’s secondary so far with his versatility and output. For Iowa to come away from State College with a victory, he’ll need to play one of his best games as a Hawkeye.



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