Penn State football: McSorley, Nittany Lions look to bounce back against Michigan State
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Trace McSorley led his high school team to three Virginia state championships and 55 wins in 60 games, but the few losses are etched in his memory.
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McSorley remembered that resilience as he and No. 7 Penn State (4-1 Big Ten, 7-1) prepared to face No. 24 Michigan State (4-1, 6-2) today at noon at Spartan Stadium (TV-Fox).
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The Nittany Lions are coming off a bitter 39-38 loss at Ohio State, a game in which they led by as many as 18 points in the first half and 15 in the fourth quarter.
"We had to bounce back, the same sort of thing now," McSorley said. "You've got to forget about it. You can't let it affect you week-to-week. Being able to draw on that experience helped me out a little bit (this week)."
Penn State's emotional state has been a topic of conversation going into its third consecutive game against a ranked Big Ten opponent.
Coming off a bye, the Lions dispatched Michigan 42-13 at home before falling to the Buckeyes. Can they recover mentally from the disappointment of their first loss?
"Nothing has changed," tight end Mike Gesicki said. "We have a bunch of mature guys on the team who understand what we have to do to prepare for Michigan State."
The Spartans also are coming off a close loss, dropping a 39-31 decision in three overtimes at Northwestern. Brian Lewerke completed 39-of-57 passes for 445 yards and four touchdowns with one interception in the defeat.
Their reliance on the passing game was out of character. Michigan State depends on its running game to set up the pass and a sturdy defense, which ranks first in the Big Ten against the run.
"They're tough," Gesicki said. "That's their personality. They play hard-nosed football. Their defense is extremely talented and extremely physical."
Last year, the Spartans focused on stopping running back Saquon Barkley, who was slowed by an ankle injury. Barkley carried 12 times for 14 yards, but Michigan State's attention on him allowed McSorley to pass for 376 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-12 rout.
"They were going to stop the run at all costs," McSorley said. "Fortunately for us, we were able to make plays through the air and make them pay. We'll see how they approach it this year."
Penn State has scored at least 31 points in every game but one this season. But the Lions might be without left tackle Ryan Bates and defensive end Ryan Buchholz, who suffered undisclosed leg injuries last week at Ohio State.
Will Fries slid over last week from right tackle to left tackle and Chasz Wright came in to play the right side. Kevin Givens and Shaka Toney would be the top candidates to replace Buchholz.
This is only the fifth time in the last 50 years that Penn State is playing at least three consecutive ranked opponents and the first since 2004.
"When you're playing for Penn State, you know teams are going to give their best against you every week," Gesicki said. "It doesn't really matter who we're playing or what their rank is. It's football. It's going to be physical. It's going to be mentally demanding.
"If you're not mentally prepared or mentally tough, then this is the wrong game for you."
McSorley, Barkley and linebacker Jason Cabinda held a short players-only meeting Sunday to emphasize that the goals remain the same.
"We've been through a lot of adversity," cornerback Christian Campbell said. "It really wasn't surprising to me how everything came together, that we were still acting like brothers. Nothing changed.
"I feel like everybody on our team has a chip on our shoulders. We want to prove to the world that we're the No. 1 team in college football."
This article is written by Written Rich Scarcella from Reading Eagle, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.