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Stop Doubting Trace McSorley

Penn State’s quarterback has already proven he can lead the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten Championship, so why are there calls for him to be benched?

NCAA Football: Indiana at Penn State Lebanon Daily News-USA TODAY NETWORK

Penn State rolled past Indiana, defeating the Hoosiers 45-14. But despite the comfortable victory, the talk after the game wasn’t about the Nittany Lions moving to 5-0 for the first time since 2008. Instead, it was about why Trace McSorley should be benched for Tommy Stevens.

Penn State boat-raced Indiana in the first quarter, but the Nittany Lions’ offense came back down to earth in the second, with a large part of that falling on McSorley’s shoulders. He was 3-of-8 for just 20 yards, and added an interception to boot. Not surprisingly, Penn State didn’t reach pay dirt in the second, leading the way for irrational calls for McSorley’s job.

Fortunately, football is a game of four quarters. For the other three quarters, McSorley played a pretty solid game, finishing the day 23-of-36 for 315 yards, two touchdowns, and just that one interception. If you take away his second quarter dip, McSorley was 20-of-28 for 295 yards and two touchdowns — hardly a performance that deserves the ridicule it’s been met with.

Has McSorley been as good as people, myself included, expected him to be this year? No, probably not. While Saquon Barkley was always the Heisman candidate in the Penn State backfield, McSorley was a legitimate dark horse for the award. To this point in the season, for whatever reason, he hasn’t played at that level. But that’s okay. Just because he hasn’t played at a Heisman-esque level, doesn’t mean he should be benched.

Wanting to bench a starting quarterback in favor of the backup is nothing new in college football. The backup quarterback is always one of the most popular players amongst the fan base. How many people wanted Anthony Morelli to start over Michael Robinson heading into 2005? What about Pat Devlin over Daryll Clark in 2008? And, of course, there was the Bolden-McGloin saga in 2010-2011. Whenever anything looks off for an offense, the laziest easiest way for a fan base to reason with the struggles is to conclude that the backup is better.

Granted, sometimes that is the case. USC rocketed last season when they benched Max Browne for Sam Darnold, but that situation warranted a change under center. Browne was actually bad, and USC was off to a 1-2 start. But here, McSorley is actually not bad — he’s on pace for 42 total touchdowns and 4,286 yards of total offense, while his completion percentage is up 7% from last season — and he’s led Penn State to a 5-0 start and the No. 4 ranking the country. There’s certainly room for improvement, but to bench a player of that caliber? Absolutely absurd.

I’m known to make some jokes about people “doubting” McSorley, but seriously, stop doubting this kid. I think what this really comes back to is that people see he doesn’t have the physical traits of a prototypical quarterback, so any success he’s had is then chalked up to luck. Because every thing else — you know, like his play on the field — points toward McSorley being a really good quarterback. Yeah, he doesn’t have the height or the frame, his throwing motion isn’t smooth, and he even runs a little funny, but guess what? He’s 16-3 as Penn State’s starter. He helped lead Penn State to a Big Ten championship. And even this year, in the season’s most important drive to date, he proved (again) that he’s a winner.

You can continue to harp on every mistake McSorley makes, because trust me, he isn’t infallible. Or you can realize that despite McSorley’s “struggles,” his numbers are up across the board. This is still the same quarterback that took Penn State to unforeseen heights last season, and he’s capable to do it again.