Grant Haley and the Penn State defense will look to intercept more passes in 2017.

Penn State hoping to cook up more turnovers, Trace McSorley feeling comfortable and more

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This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Friday, April 14. Let’s get started.

The takeaway on takeaways

Penn State cornerback Grant Haley, addressing reporters after practice on Wednesday, talked about the need to create more takeaways this season.

The Nittany Lions had 21 in 2016 – 11 fumble recoveries and 10 interceptions – while turning it over 20 times (12 lost fumbles and 8 interceptions). Their plus-1 turnover ratio was eighth in the Big Ten and 64th in the FBS.

Per Greg Pickel of Pennlive.com, Haley and his teammates in the secondary have been looking to improve their ball skills this spring, in the hope that leads to more interceptions this fall. As Haley put it:

“As defensive players, we weren’t happy about the amount of turnovers we had last year. We’re just working on our hands every single day. We’re just trying to get that mental mindset. We feel like we missed more opportunities, and we have to take more chances, too, to get those opportunities.”

Haley was involved in a couple of the biggest plays last season, returning a blocked field goal for the winning touchdown against Ohio State and making a fourth-down stop in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin to clinch the game. On both occasions, his co-conspirator was safety Marcus Allen.

Now Haley, Allen and the other members of the defensive backfield want more, even though they will be without cornerback John Reid for an undetermined amount of time because of a left knee injury. Senior Christian Campbell is expected to fill in for him, and others – notably early-enrollee Lamont Wade – will be thrown into the fire.

By all accounts, Wade, a 5-star cornerback from Clairton, Pa., has acclimated quickly to his new environment. Haley said the newcomer leads the team with 3 interceptions this spring.

That bodes well for the Nittany Lions, coach James Franklin said:

“If we can increase our turnover ratio and do a better job with picks, then it’s going to really help us. You can take a good defense and become great, or a great defense and become elite, by just making that change.”

All systems go in Year 2

As might be expected, Penn State’s offensive players are more comfortable in their second year in coordinator Joe Moorhead’s system. As quarterback Trace McSorley said after practice on Wednesday, per Mark Wogenrich of The (Allentown) Morning Call:

“It’s definitely been a lot sharper this second year around. Guys are clicking. We’re not getting a feel for it anymore. We know how it’s supposed to work.”

McSorley set school single-season records for passing yards (3,614), total offense (3,979) and passing touchdowns (29) in 2016, his first year as a starter. He is seeking to improve his footwork and eliminate negative plays this season. He was intercepted 8 times a year ago, with 3 of the picks coming in the Rose Bowl loss to USC. Per Wogenrich, here’s Franklin on that topic:

“If you look at his touchdown-to-interception ratio, it was really good, but when he had interceptions, they came in bunches. If you cut his interceptions in half, then we’re in a really good situation.”

The Daily Collegian had more from McSorley:

Hockey team adds 4

The Penn State hockey team, fresh off a Big Ten championship and NCAA Tournament appearance, saw 4 players sign letters of intent during the spring signing period: defensemen Cole Hults and Adam Pilewicz, and forwards Alex Limoges and Sam Sternschein.

The Nittany Lions also added 3 recruits during the fall signing period.

As reported by Gordon Brunskill of the Centre Daily Times, Pilewicz generated 9 goals and 34 assists while appearing in 108 games over 2 seasons with the Johnstown Tomahawks of the NAHL.

Hults spent 3 seasons with the Madison Capitols of the USHL. He collected 6 goals and 25 assists in his final season there.

Sternschein had 20 goals and 12 assists in 45 games last season for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, and 1 goal and 1 assist for Cedar Rapids of the same league.

Limoges was named team MVP while helping the U.S. Junior Select team win the gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge in 2016. He piled up 22 goals and 34 assists over 55 games for 2 USHL teams.

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