And what better time to make up some ground than in the biggest game of the season against one of his Heisman competitors, Dwayne Haskins?
At the end of the first third of the season, Trace is looking pretty good. He’s pulled off an Iowa-2017-esque 4th quarter comeback drive against Appalachian State, displaying his composure under pressure, and he’s put up astronomical numbers in the air and on the ground against some pretty shaky defenses. Trace is playing well, don’t get me wrong. The issue is that – so far – a lot of guys are playing better. Now, it’s not too much to worry about yet. It’s still early, and most of these guys will fall apart once they start facing some legitimate in-conference opponents. However, in order to win the Heisman you need to have an eye-opening, record-shattering, well above-average season. After doing the math on the first 4 games, Trace is remarkably average. Here he is compared to the Top 15, plus Haskins and Tua Tagovailoa. Note Will Grier as the only Power-5 guy who’s playing at a level above 95% of the competition.
Now, you have to take this with a grain of salt. He is being compared to players like McKenzie Milton in the American conference and Caleb Evans in the Sun Belt: conferences whose defenses are the two worst in college football. Compared only to other Big 10 quarterbacks McSorley is doing much better, but he’s still only 3rd best in our rankings behind Haskins and the Michigan State QB.
Part of why Trace may be hurt in our rankings is because Penn State is explosive on the ground too. Granted, he is our 2nd best rusher in yards and leader in rushing touchdowns, but the exchange of Saquon Barkley for Miles Sanders has proven an easy transition so far. My point is that a Heisman candidate is helped by putting the team on his back, and the presence of a strong ground game prevents that from happening every week. Meanwhile, Will Grier hasn’t been required to hand the ball off because the Big 12 doesn’t use defensive backs – they actually don’t even have a one on the roster – so throwing is just the path of least resistance. West Virginia is 3rd in passing yards, 73rd in rushing yards. For reference, Penn State is 61st in passing yards and 10th in rushing yards. Trace gets some points for contributing to that 10th spot, but not as many as a Grier or Haskins get for their air-attacks.
So what is the secret to get Trace into Heisman contention? Two things: hand the ball off less, and improve his completion percentage. Right now he’s only responsible for half of all Penn State’s touchdowns. Grier is responsible for 80% of West Virginia’s. Granted, Penn State is averaging 7 touchdowns a game to WVU’s 6 and that extra TD is usually thrown by Heisman darkhorse Sean Clifford, but still. I see this fixing itself as the season goes on and we play tighter games and throw more. The completion percentage will adjust upwards too from the 54% it’s at right now, but by how much I don’t know. McSorley threw at 66.5% last year, but 57.9% the year before. Maybe if Juwan Johnson and friends eliminate some of those early-season drops, he gets to a respectable completion percentage. If he wants to stay in this Heisman race, though, he’s gonna have to play up with the big boys of Tua, Grier, and Haskins in the 70-75% range if he really wants to compete. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a baller on the field. But the numbers are against Trace 4 games in. Let’s see if a whiteout under the lights can help change that.