Iowa Football

Iowa's defensive mission at Penn State: Stop QB Trace McSorley

Penn State senior has proven to be dual threat this season

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — You remember it. You have to remember it.

How could you ever forget it?

Saquon Barkley hurdled defensive back Josh Jackson in the fourth quarter of last year’s Penn State-Iowa game at Kinnick Stadium, an amazing display of athleticism from an amazing player who had an amazing game. The Nittany Lions running back grabbed an outlet pass in the flat on third-and-6, began running up field, saw Jackson and jumped over him (with room to spare) as he crouched to make a sure tackle.

It resulted in a first down. Penn State won the game on the final play.

Barkley’s gone now, on doing Barkley things with the NFL’s New York Giants. The guy who threw him that pass, and the game winner to Juwan Johnson, is the guy Iowa’s defense will be most heavily focused on Saturday.

Penn State’s offense goes through quarterback Trace McSorley. The senior has accounted for over 10,000 yards passing and rushing in his career.

He had back-to-back passing seasons of 3,000-plus yards as a sophomore and junior. If he’s able to hit that mark again, he’d join Drew Brees as the only QBs in Big Ten history to do so three seasons.

“Whether it’s how they’re trending right now, you look back three years, at least for us, going back two seasons prior to this one, he’s a dual threat,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He can beat you with his hands or his feet or his arm. I think beyond that, the thing most impressive to me is ... what he brings to his team. I think it’s true of everybody. A really good quarterback brings a lot of value to the team, are meaningful to a team’s success. I think he epitomizes that.”

McSorley ranks a pedestrian ninth in the Big Ten in passing yards this season (1,461) but is eighth in the league in rushing. His 554 yards already is a career high.

He had an absurd 175-yard rushing game three weeks ago against Ohio State. In a win last week at Indiana, McSorley “only” produced 107 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

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There’s no question he’s the best quarterback Iowa has played against this season, a legit dual-threat dude.

“I feel like he’s more of a runner this year,” said Iowa safety Geno Stone. “They’ve still got a great back in Miles Sanders back there, don’t get me wrong. But it seems like they’re trying to get the ball in (McSorley’s) hands now, without Saquon there. I feel like keying on McSorley, trying to stop him, is probably one of our big goals.”

Yeah, that’s a pretty good idea.

“I think beyond what he’s doing statistically, running it, throwing it, just the value he brings to that football team (is important),” Ferentz said. “If he’s in the huddle, I can’t read minds, but my guess is all 11 of those guys felt like they were going to get it done last year against us. Obviously, we were hoping it was going to be the other way. We were trying as hard as we could. Somehow they prevailed, came up with the last play. It literally was the last play of the game.”

Penn State has been just as complimentary this week about Iowa’s defense as Iowa has been about McSorley. The Hawkeyes rank second in the Big Ten in total defense and are tied with Michigan State for first in rushing defense.

The front line of Parker Hesse, Matt Nelson, Anthony Nelson, A.J. Epenesa, Sam Brincks, et., al, have harried quarterbacks with its rush and stymied them (and running backs) when they’ve tried to run. This matchup against a Penn State offense averaging 42 points per game is a juicy one and a telltale one, in all likelihood.

“They’re big, strong guys, but they’re athletic,” McSorley said. “They do a really good job of fighting through edges and blocks, being able to disrupt passing lanes. Their coverage does a really good job, in part of that, because they’re not letting guys get wide open downfield. They’re not getting beat. They’re keeping everything in front of them.”

“The thing I think that really kind of stands out about them (defensively) is their front,” Penn State Coach James Franklin said. “I think it’s by far the best front that we have faced in two years. They are long, they are physical, they are stout, they make a bunch of plays. They seem like they are all 6-7 and 290 pounds across that front.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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