McSorley, PSU on verge of Big Ten title

STATE COLLEGE (AP) — Having played against Trace McSorley in high school, Derek Dowrey remembers one thing about the shifty quarterback with the deceptively strong arm he now blocks for every Saturday.

“I just know that he torched us, basically,” Dowrey said.

Bolstered by smart decision making, timely deep balls, quick feet and awareness to use them, the dual-threat quarterback has helped No. 8 Penn State do the same to the rest of the Big Ten all season. As a result, Penn State (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten, No. 7 CFP) is set for its biggest game in nearly a decade and will face Michigan State (3-8, 1-7) in the regular season finale Saturday with a Big Ten championship, and possibly more, on the line.

Penn State would win the Big Ten East with a victory and a Michigan loss to Ohio State.

The fact that McSorley is just 256 yards from breaking his program’s single-season yardage record (3,215) with the stakes this high is no coincidence. He’s accounted for an average of 283 total yards per game during Penn State’s seven-game winning streak and 17 total touchdowns. He’s tossed just two interceptions in that span. His quiet, calm demeanor has been celebrated again and again by his teammates and coaches.

“He’s pretty much been who we thought he was going to be,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “But I will tell you that’s typically not the case, I mean, for all of us. In any industry, any relationship, you go in thinking you know somebody pretty well. Very rarely do they play out to be the person that you thought they were.”

The Spartans, meanwhile, are a team in transition. After winning two of the last three Big Ten titles, Michigan State’s season will end without a bowl game for the first time since 2006.

“Our goals are to finish much like we’ve always tried to do, complete a circle, finish with a ‘W,'” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I think that makes a big difference in every football season. How you end that season really sets you up or plateaus you, or whatever the case.”

RUN-STUFFERS: Michigan State’s running game has thrived by changing angles and deceiving linebackers and the Spartans enter the regular season finale led by powerful back LJ Scott, averaging 219 rushing yards in their last five games.

Penn State should be able to deal with this type of offense with linebackers Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda available. In games they’ve played together this season, Penn State has allowed just 91 rushing yards per game compared to 221 per game when either star linebacker is out.

BARKLEY A GO: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who was knocked from the Rutgers game after a helmet-to-helmet hit, spoke at length with reporters on Tuesday and will play after testing negative for a concussion.

DUELING TES: Penn State’s Mike Gesicki and his Michigan State counterpart Josiah Price have been big factors for their teams. Gesicki set Penn State’s single-season receptions record for a tight end with his 42nd last week and enters the game with 14 catches for 200 yards over the last three. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since Oct. 8, however. Price needs two catches to become just the third tight end in Michigan State history with 100 in a career.

CHANGING LINEUPS: Both teams have been hit hard by injuries. While Penn State endured the loss of seven linebackers in September and now is without its top three offensive tackles, the Spartans have fielded different starting lineups in every single game with 25 players earning their first start or extended playing time this season.

SENIOR DAY: Penn State will honor 17 seniors before the game. Seven were true freshmen in 2012, the year the program was sanctioned by the NCAA following the university’s role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Four more recruits remained committed to the team despite a four-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions and a transfer waiver that offered them the chance to go to another team without losing a year of eligibility.

Michigan State’s 28 seniors, who were celebrated in a private ceremony in East Lansing last week, will play their final collegiate game at Beaver Stadium.