Flip-flop be­tween McSor­ley and Stevens leaves fans per­plexed

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JOHN MCGONIGAL jm­c­go­ni­gal@cen­tredaily.com

In the sec­ond half of a blowout at The Big House, Trace McSor­ley and Tommy Stevens found them­selves in a wait­ing game. And all the while, Penn State fans in the Michi­gan Sta­dium nose­bleeds and me­dia mem­bers in the press box alike were left shak­ing their heads.

Why was McSor­ley re­placed by Stevens in the third quar­ter of a three-score game? Why did McSor­ley re-en­ter when Michi­gan’s lead bal­looned to 28-0? Why did the cap­tain take a seat again? And — most puz­zling — why was the lifeblood of Penn State’s pro­gram still play­ing, with a knee brace strapped to his right leg, with the Nit­tany Lions down 35-0 in the fourth?

Mired in a melt­down at the hands of Michi­gan, Nit­tany Lions head coach James Franklin flip-flopped be­tween McSor­ley and Stevens with­out much ex­pla­na­tion given to the quar­ter­backs. At the time, the sec­ond-half carousel be­tween the ham­pered sig­nal-caller and the barely-tested backup was per­plex­ing to say the least. And af­ter the game, lit­tle clar­ity was brought to the sit­u­a­tion.

“We were go­ing back and forth just by what the coaches felt,” McSor­ley said fol­low­ing the 42-7 de­feat. “Me and (Stevens), we were just wait­ing to hear what they were say­ing be­fore the next drive, so we knew what was go­ing to hap­pen.”

When asked why he and McSor­ley switched in and out in the sec­ond half, Stevens sim­ply said, “I’m not sure.”

The con­fu­sion be­gan with 56 sec­onds left in the third quar­ter. Penn State trailed 21-0, and the Nit­tany Lions had just 92 yards on 30 plays to that point. McSor­ley — who spent ex­tra hours in the train­ing room all week work­ing on an ap­par­ent knee in­jury — had to bounce back from ar­guably his worst per­for­mance to date.

Ex­cept he wasn’t given the op­por­tu­nity. McSor­ley was healthy enough to play. But Franklin felt the Nit­tany Lions needed a “spark,” so McSor­ley was pulled in fa­vor of Stevens. That didn’t go well.

Af­ter an 18-yard run, Stevens rolled left and threw in the gen­eral vicin­ity of Bran­don Polk across his body. The fan fa­vorite’s toss was picked off by Michi­gan’s Bran­don Wat­son, who re­turned it to the house for a

62-yard touch­down. Michi­gan led 28-0. It was the prover­bial nail in the cof­fin. And yet, McSor­ley sur­pris­ingly re­turned to the game on the fol­low­ing drive.

“We can’t turn the ball over in those sit­u­a­tions. So we felt like we had to go back to Trace,” Franklin said. “It wasn’t a sit­u­a­tion where the guy just made a great play. The last thing we want to do when we’re in a sit­u­a­tion like we were in tonight is start turn­ing the ball over. That was the de­ci­sion to go back.”

Stevens said, “No,” when asked if he was given a rea­son as to why he was pulled post-INT. McSor­ley wasn’t given a rea­son why he was put back in, ei­ther.

“Coach Franklin came over and said, ‘You’re go­ing back in,’ ” McSor­ley re­called. “That’s how that went down.”

On McSor­ley’s first play back, he was twisted to the ground by Michi­gan de­fen­sive line­man Kwite Paye. The quar­ter­back was slow to get up, and as the thirdquar­ter clock hit zero, McSor­ley made his way to the blue med­i­cal tent. Stevens was in the game to start the fourth, and that made sense. What didn’t is what hap­pened next.

Af­ter Stevens’ se­ries stalled and the Wolver­ines piled on with an­other score, Michi­gan kicked off with a 35-0 lead. On the TV broad­cast, side­line reporter Maria Tay­lor re- ported that McSor­ley might be done for the night. ESPN an­a­lyst Kirk Herb­streit chimed in, “He should be.”

But McSor­ley jogged onto the field. And on the first snap back, he threw a high pass to tight end Nick Bow­ers, which de­flected and landed in the hands of Michi­gan corner­back David Long. Wolver­ines de­fen­sive end Chase Wi­novich mocked the quar­ter­back with his sig­na­ture home run cel­e­bra­tion as Michi­gan basked in the mo­ment.

From that point on, McSor­ley’s day was done. And he could do noth­ing but be dis­ap­pointed com­ing off the field.

“Hon­estly, I was say­ing ex­ple­tives to my­self,” McSor­ley said. “We played sloppy. The few op­por­tu­ni­ties that we had, we missed. At times, when we had to make a tough play, we didn’t make it. We made it worse. I didn’t play near to the stan­dard that I needed to. At that point, it was frus­tra­tion — frus­tra­tion with my­self.”

But quite frankly, McSor­ley’s in­ter­cep­tion might have been the best thing that hap­pened to him.

The game was lost. The quar­ter­back’s heroic re­turn last week­end against Iowa was one thing; but McSor­ley was not go­ing to lead a comeback down 35 with nine min­utes to go. If he doesn’t throw an in­ter­cep­tion, who’s to say Wi­nov- ich, Rashan Gary or Josh Uche doesn’t sack McSor­ley on the next play? Who’s to say the sig­nal-caller doesn’t fur­ther in­jure his knee? He could have taken a mean­ing­less, sea­so­nend­ing hit.

Franklin said, “It’s hard tak­ing Trace McSor­ley off the field.” But it shouldn’t have been when he’s not 100 per­cent healthy, down five touch­downs against the best de­fense in col­lege foot­ball. The same de­fense that had re­venge on its mind. The same group that sacked McSor­ley four times al­ready.

When asked if he ever felt un­com­fort­able or ques­tioned why he was in the game in the fourth quar­ter, McSor­ley an­swered how ev­ery­one would ex­pect: “No. That never crossed my mind. Not one time.”

But it should have crossed Franklin’s mind. In­stead, Nit­tany Lion fans left Michi­gan Sta­dium Satur­day night con­fused, won­der­ing why McSor­ley was pulled ear­lier — and why he wasn’t later.


Penn State head coach James Franklin watches his team play against Michi­gan in the sec­ond half of Satur­day’s game in Ann Ar­bor, Mich. Franklin pro­vided lit­tle clar­ity about the sec­ond-half flip-flop be­tween quar­ter­backs Trace McSor­ley and Tommy Stevens.

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