Trace McSorley's ability to run is no secret, but through three games this season, he already has six rushing touchdowns. That total has him tied amongst FBS quarterbacks along with Navy's quarterback Malcolm Perry who runs a triple-option offense. A quarter of the way through the season, he only trails Florida Atlantic's Devin Singletary who leads the country with seven rushing touchdowns. Though this pace is probably not sustainable, there are several factors that have led to this quick start.
McSorely rushed for 11 touchdowns in 2017 and averaged 3.4 yards per carry. Through the first three games, his average is 5.5 yards per carry with his longest carry being 20 yards. Penn State's first three opponents are surely not defensive juggernauts, but as part of the run-pass-option offense, he's tasked with making a quick read off the snap to determine what the defense is showing, and has made the correct decision more often than not. So far in 2018, those decisions have led to big gains and lots of scores on the ground.
For the last few years, Penn State fans have waited for the offensive line to be a strength of the team. So far this season, this group has looked like they have finally turned that corner. As tougher games await down the road, they will get their fair share of tests but have a chance to make an even bigger jump. With the departure of Saquon Barkley, it was assumed that most of the pressure would fall on the senior quarterback, but Miles Sanders has performed admirably in his first three starts, easing the burden on McSorley and allowing him to be extremely effective with his legs. Defensive coordinators have their hands full, trying to figure out how to deal with a good offensive line, a tackle-breaking, bulldozing running back, and a speedy, elusive quarterback.
Nick wrote an article on Sunday that detailed the effectiveness of the offense in the red zone. With Tommy Stevens injured, the red zone packages that feature him as the "Lion" have yet to be seen. A big reason the team has been just as effective without their swiss army knife in this area is the threat of McSorley running the ball. To start 2018, teams have mostly focused their energy on trying to stop Miles Sanders (that hasn't worked) and the passing game (five touchdowns total, three in the red zone), instead of devoting too much energy to shutting down McSorley's legs. As defenses improve moving forward, teams will be able to try to do all three more effectively than these first three groups, but it's worth watching to see if teams continually give the quarterback those openings.
In his third year as the starting quarterback, McSorley has the offense running efficiently once again despite some early mistakes such as drops and penalties. On Saturday vs. Kent State, he passed Darryl Clark for Penn State's all-time leader in touchdown runs by a quarterback. Penn State heads to Illinois as a heavy favorite Friday night and it's fair to assume he could add a few more touchdowns to his record. He's only rushed 26 times on the season and that pace is behind his 144 carries a season ago and 146 two years ago, but he's picking his spots wisely and turning those into touchdowns. As Penn State plays better defenses going forward, they'll need McSorley's arm the most, but his legs should remain valuable weapons, and may just have him within reach of the rushing touchdown lead for quarterbacks at the end of the year.