James Franklin declined to discuss how Trace McSorley’s injury could impact him against Michigan, but Penn State’s head coach wasn’t shy about praising the quarterback for his toughness.
The Nittany Lions’ three-year starter suffered a lower-leg injury in the second quarter of Saturday’s game — one former NFL doctor theorized it was a sprained MCL, which limits lateral mobility — but he returned two offensive series later. And he boasted a 51-yard touchdown run in the next quarter.
“I think Saturday is a moment that probably exemplified that,” Franklin said, referring to McSorley’s toughness. But, “I don’t think one game is going to define Trace McSorley. It’s the whole package. It’s the running, it’s the passing, it’s the leadership, its the academics. It’s all of it.”
Franklin said Tuesday that a lot of football coaches and analysts felt last year that Saquon Barkley was a special player — but the offense “started and ended with the quarterback.”
“He made it go” Franklin said, referring to McSorley.
Franklin said it’s McSorley’s dedication to all the small things that allows him to be so successful and durable. He makes sure to get the same amount of sleep every night. He follows a rigid nutrition schedule. He stays hydrated and, Franklin said, he never cramps.
“Because he does all those things right, that allows him to practice at a high level every day … and that allows him to play at a high level,” Franklin added.
Here are the other highlights to Franklin’s weekly Tuesday press conference:
Special teams woes
Penn State’s struggles on special teams have been a continuing storyline this season.
Against Iowa, two botched punts led to safeties — one of which was a mishandled snap by punter Blake Gillikin and another where the snap went over Gillikin’s head. A fake field goal also went for a touchdown Saturday.
“Obviously after this Saturday, we still got a lot of work to do,” Franklin said. “I think some of it is personnel, I think some of it is what we can do better from a scheme standpoint to put guys in a better position. We just need to be more consistent.”
The Nittany Lions boast two explosive returners in KJ Hamler and DeAndre Thompkins. And special teams as a whole didn’t necessarily regress Saturday, as kicker Jake Pinegar went a perfect 3 for 3 on field goals over 40 yards.
But there have been plenty of other issues this season, from the fake special-teams plays with Michigan State to the onside kicks Penn State failed to recover.
“There’s no doubt we need to be better there and more consistent there,” Franklin added. “We can’t afford to make those types of mistakes, and I think we all recognize that.”
Some D-end in the future for Parsons?
Freshman phenom Micah Parsons is essentially splitting reps with Koa Farmer at linebacker, a position he never played prior to Penn State. In high school, Parsons was a defensive end.
But, as Parsons grows more comfortable with college ball, Franklin said his role could expand to other positions, maybe in some subpackages.
“One of the things that’s nice is that, as Micah continues to grow and gains more confidence, I think there’s a lot of ways we can use him in both ways,” Franklin said. “I think we can use him as a linebacker; I think we can get him in situations from personnel packages where we’re using him to blitz the quarterback and rush the quarterback.”
One reason Franklin wanted him to play linebacker as opposed to defensive end is because that’s where Penn State needed help, and where Parsons had the opportunity to make the biggest impact. So far, Franklin’s been pleased with the decision.
What else could be in store for Parsons? Well, the linebacker has apparently flirted with the idea of wrestling at Penn State, too. Franklin said that Parsons said it in a joking manner — but he was “deadly serious.”
‘A lot like Trace’
Franklin had a big compliment for Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, who transferred from Ole Miss in December after it received a postseason ban.
Penn State’s head coach compared Patterson to McSorley.
“He’s a guy I’d describe a lot like Trace. … They got a guy who’s played a lot of football, been in big moments and those types of things,” Franklin said, adding Patterson can also make plays with his feet and out of the pocket. “So he’s added another dimension to their offense and I would describe him in a lot of ways like Trace.”
Penn State Players of the Week
Every Tuesday, Franklin and the coaching staff release Penn State’s players of the week from the previous game. Franklin didn’t spend much time going over this week’s winners because “it’s probably obvious to everyone.”
Offense: QB Trace McSorley
Defense: DE Yetur Gross-Matos
Special teams: K Jake Pinegar
Looking back at Iowa, safeties
Franklin likes to look at several key stats every week to gauge his team’s success — such as penalties, turnovers, sacks and explosive plays. This week, Franklin said, the 30-24 win over Iowa essentially featured a “wash” in every category.
“We were fortunate to come out of that game with a win against a really good football game at home, especially having to overcome two safeties,” Franklin said, “which in my 23 years as a coach and however many years as a player, I don’t know if I’ve ever see that.”