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Calm and tough, McSorley lifts Lions

INDIANAPOLIS - Trace McSorley jumped off the training table and grabbed his helmet as if nothing was wrong. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead pulled the Penn State quarterback aside to chat.

INDIANAPOLIS - Trace McSorley jumped off the training table and grabbed his helmet as if nothing was wrong. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead pulled the Penn State quarterback aside to chat.

McSorley didn't say much. He listened, then headed for the huddle. He was ready to go back into the Big Ten championship game despite taking a hard hit in the backfield and limping off the field moments earlier.

"It wasn't that bad," McSorley said. "It was kind of one of the messages, like: 'This is how this game is going to go.' "

Coming out of the game, or even sitting for a series, never crossed his mind.

"This is the Big Ten championship," McSorley said. "I'll do everything I can to play, do everything I can to help this team."

On the next drive, McSorley connected with Saeed Blacknall for a crucial 40-yard touchdown, which cut Penn State's deficit from 21 to 14 heading into halftime. The pass put a comeback within reach for a squad that all season had defined itself with strong second-half showings.

Amid all the ugliness of Saturday's 38-31 win over Wisconsin - despite the high shotgun snap returned for a Wisconsin touchdown, despite penalties and uncharacteristic mistakes that plagued the Lions early - McSorley never wavered en route to becoming the Big Ten championship game MVP.

"We all know how tough Trace is. He can take a lick for a little guy," center Brian Gaia said. "You know what they say, 'It's not the size of the dog in the fight. It is the size of the fight in the dog.' And I definitely think he has a lot more fight in him than he shows physically."

In the moments when the white-clad sections of Lucas Oil Stadium got eerily quiet while the Wisconsin fans danced in their seats, there it was again: McSorley's quality.

The quality that helped carry Penn State to that comeback win over Minnesota and that fourth-quarter victory over No. 2 Ohio State. The one that at times had been able to overshadow the lingering struggles of Penn State's patchwork offensive line. The one that rallied a team from a 2-2 record in September.

In Indianapolis, in front of 65,018 spectators, that quality - McSorley's quiet confidence and casual toughness - lifted the Lions when they needed it most.

He finished the game 22 of 31 for 384 yards and four touchdown passes, a record for a Big Ten championship game. In the third quarter alone, he went 5 for 5 for 146 yards and a touchdown, a 70-yarder to Blacknall that made the matchup a one-score game.

McSorley adjusted early to Wisconsin's dominant defense, which held Penn State to back-to-back three-and-outs to start the game, and settled down the offense, the same way he calmed the unit all season.

His influence, however, was not just contained to the offense.

"We know Trace has that heart," said cornerback and St. Joseph's Prep graduate John Reid. "He brings a lot of swag."

"He is one of the toughest kids I know," linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "He just grinds and grinds and grinds. He will do whatever it takes to get the job done."

Where does that fight come from?

McSorley attributed it to his father, Rick, who preached the importance of toughness to Trace when he started playing football as a child.

This season, those childhood talks with dad paid off. Big time.

As McSorley was named MVP, he made eye contact with his family in the stands and got choked up. It was a moment he said he will never forget.

"Trace has been dynamic all year long," coach James Franklin said. "I'm really proud of him, his attitude, his demeanor, the type of teammate he is, the type of leader he is."

Back in September, after the Lions were steamrolled by Michigan, 49-10, McSorley made headlines when he apologized to Penn State fans for the team's poor performance. But on that day in Ann Arbor, he also voiced confidence.

"We'll get in the film room tomorrow, start correcting the mistakes that we had," McSorley said. "Learn from it and move on."

On Saturday, Penn State showed all it had learned. And, as usual, McSorley didn't need to say anything.