ORLANDO, Fla. — On that unscientific one-to-10 scale, Trace McSorley gauged the pain as a solid seven or eight.
Not that he planned to let that stop him.
No. 12 Penn State’s furious fourth-quarter rally fell just short Tuesday in the Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium, but not without a gutsy performance by the legendary Nittany Lions quarterback that made for a fitting final chapter in his college career.
The senior threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns, then ran for 75 and a third score, but No. 14 Kentucky outlasted the Nittany Lions anyway, 27-24.
After an uneven first half, McSorley missed the first series of the second half, giving way to redshirt freshman Sean Clifford. With Clifford on the field, a Penn State spokesperson announced McSorley had suffered a broken foot in the first half and would not return to the game.
Five plays later, with the Nittany Lions trailing by 13, McSorley jogged back onto the field.
After the game, McSorley somewhat denied the broken foot diagnosis, saying only that tests were “unclear” as to an exact problem with the right foot. But he said he felt significant, centralized pain in the foot, and when he came out to talk more with the gathered press after his press conference and another round of treatment, he had a boot on his lower leg, ankle and foot area.
Head coach James Franklin said team doctors were going to make the final decision on whether McSorley could play, and they determined that whatever the injury was, he couldn’t do more damage playing on it. However, to play on it, he’d have to decide whether to plow through a great deal of pain.
“For me, my personality, they were going to have to take my pads off of me,” McSorley said. “It was just a matter of dealing with it.
“I didn’t want my career to end like that. I also wanted to be out there with my teammates. I knew that was going to be the last time I was going to be able to suit up with those guys. We’ve gone through too much as far as winter workouts, spring ball, summer conditioning. I went through too much with those guys for it to end on something where it was pain management.”
Teammates took the news of McSorley returning to action with varying degrees of surprise and excitement.
Safety Nick Scott, a fellow senior, praised McSorley’s competitive spirit and toughness, but admitted to thinking about the ramifications further injuring the foot could have on McSorley’s professional prospects.
“As a friend,” Scott said, “I’m looking at Trace like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ ”
Running back Miles Sanders, though, said McSorley’s return to the field fired up the offense, and nobody on it more than the junior who rushed for 51 yards.
“I got excited. I actually punched him in the chest when I saw him there,” Sanders said. “Trace shows you every week how tough he is and how much he competes. I respect him so much. I was really excited to see him back on the field.”
No decisions yet
Two Penn State players who said they were considering leaving the program after the season for the NFL Draft said Tuesday they still hadn’t made a decision.
Sanders said he would make one in the next few days, while defensive end Shareef Miller — who had eight tackles in the Citrus Bowl — added that he is not leaning one way or another on a decision.
“I really don’t know right now,” he said. “I’m going to decide in a couple of days. I’m just trying to get through this loss, and I hate losing. So I’m not really worrying about that. It’s up in the air right now.”
Connor McGovern, the right guard who also was considering a jump to the NFL, wasn’t made available to reporters after the game.
As advertised, Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year Josh Allen dropped Penn State quarterbacks three times to lead a solid defensive effort for Kentucky.
After the game, he dropped the mic.
“I’ve got something to say. I’m leaving you with this. You all record this,” the senior Allen said, unprompted, as he left the postgame press conference. “If I don’t go No. 1 (in the 2019 NFL Draft), I don’t know who is. And I stand true to that.”
Two of Allen’s three sacks on McSorley came on third down pass attempts to stall drives. Allen also got a piece of kicker Jake Pinegar’s 36-yard field goal attempt in the closing minute of the first half.
Allen is expected to be selected in the first round of next year’s Draft, perhaps as high as the top 10.
Defensive tackle Robert Windsor missed the game for what Franklin called “a violation of team rules.” Sophomore Antonio Shelton started in his place. ... Linebacker Cam Brown was ejected for targeting on a helmet-to-helmet tackle of receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. on the first series of the second half. By rule, Brown will have to sit out the first half of Penn State’s 2019 opener against Idaho on Aug. 31. ... Wildcats RB Benny Snell became Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher on his third-quarter touchdown run, his second of the game, and he finished with 144 rushing yards to seal Citrus Bowl MVP honors.