The perils of live TV — Trace McSorley strained to hear the questions. Standing at the edge of the Nittanyville tent town outside of Beaver Stadium, Penn State’s quarterback was doing his best to hear the ESPN studio anchors talking to him in his earpiece.
Asked about the pressure of a matchup of the nation’s top two scoring offenses — Penn State is No. 1 at 55.5 points per game, Ohio State is No. 2 at 54.5 — McSorley ultimately delivered an answer that was loud and clear.
“If it takes 40 points, if it takes 60 points, that’s what we’ve gotta do,” McSorley said. “If we’ve gotta score 100 points, that’s what we’re gonna do.”
The numbers themselves don’t matter as much as the mentality. No lead is going to be safe on Saturday night.
Not after the Nittany Lions outscored the Buckeyes 17-0 in the fourth quarter to win in 2016. Not after the Bucks responded with a 19-3 run of their own in the fourth to claim the 2017 game.
This time, McSorley will have a new counterpart to duel in Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, who has taken over for four-year starter J.T. Barrett with great early success.
Both quarterbacks will be firmly in the spotlight.
Asked to provide some word association for McSorley, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer didn’t miss a beat, calling him “a winner. A guy that can do it all. And a competitor.”
As Lions coach James Franklin put it a week earlier, “The guy’s been winning since he was in diapers.”
Though McSorley had the preseason buzz as a three-year starter, Haskins has shined brighter than expected in his first four games, throwing 16 touchdowns to just one interception. Heading into the showdown between the No. 4 Buckeyes and No. 9 Lions, Haskins has even started to get some buzz that he could be a first-round draft pick. As a redshirt sophomore, he could even declare for the NFL this offseason.
”Well, I think it starts with obviously Haskins,” Franklin said when breaking down the Bucks’ offense. “And I think with the athletes and the weapons that they have, he’s able to make you account for all 53-and-a-third of the field because of his arm strength and because of the athleticism that they have
“So that helps their running game. That helps their passing game, that he’s able to really distribute the ball to so many weapons that they’ve been able to recruit and develop.”
It also means that the Ohio State offense looks much different than those previously fielded by Meyer.
The hugely successful coach has typically favored putting his quarterback on the move, from Alex Smith at Utah to Tim Tebow at Florida to Barrett at Ohio State. But even those three stars had their own distinct skillsets that molded the offense, and Haskins is no different as primarily a pocket passer.
“I think that’s what makes them different, where in the past they were probably more of a heavy running game as well as quarterback running game,” Franklin said. “It was such a big part of what they did.”
”Well, it’s not double option football anymore,” Meyer said. “The double options are, sometimes you’ll see it looks like a called pass, but that’s a run where we’re reading the second level defenders. So it’s completely different.”
THREE AND OUT
White Out welcome
Franklin didn’t mince words this week for Penn State fans, using the pulpit to call them out at his weekly press conference.
“We need to make it the most challenging environment in the history of college football on Saturday,” Franklin said.
Ohio State’s past two trips to Happy Valley have been a 24-21 loss in 2016 and a 31-24 win in double overtime, a game the Lions led at one point in the first overtime.
”It’s just a difficult place,” Meyer said. “Certainly one of the top five stadiums to play in, hard to play in. Very loud and the fans are into it. And very good environment. Great environment.”
Along with that atmosphere comes one of the biggest collections of high school talent in program history to see the game.
“We’re gonna have 10 official visitors and their families that need to be picked up at the airport and checked into the hotel, shown everything, academic tours — all that kind of stuff — and the game’s going on,” Franklin said.
“On top of that, we’re probably gonna have about 175 recruits on campus unofficially. I’d say of that 175, say 60 of them are national recruits with 20 offers or more. Probably all of the best players in the region are gonna be here.”
That includes a host of five-star talent from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 classes. Two of the top 10-rated high school juniors (2020 class) in the country have said on Twitter they will be in attendance — Southern Columbia wide receiver Julian Fleming and No. 1 overall recruit Bryan Bresee, a defensive lineman out of Maryland.
Lions247 reported Friday afternoon that it had confirmed 11 five-star prospects and 27 four-star prospects in all who are expected to be at the game — and counting.
“I think it was (former Penn State tight end) Jesse James one day said to me, ‘He goes, if you come to the White Out, you’re committing,’ ” Franklin said. “Like there’s no other option. You just get caught up in the energy and the enthusiasm and the excitement.”
With clear weather in the forecast, the Lions have a shot to break the stadium’s all-time attendance record of 110,823, set for last year’s White Out against Michigan.
Now to figure out where everyone is going to park.
Penn State announced earlier in the week that it had sold out of parking permits. And as of Friday evening, both tickets and parking passes were being listed at above $200 on secondary outlets like StubHub.
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse