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Penn State Football: Here's How Joe Moorhead Can Deploy McSorley & Stevens in the Same Backfield

by on May 04, 2017 10:00 PM

They have to be at least thinking about it, right?

After last season's Iowa game, when Tommy Stevens split right in the slot, went into motion, took the ball from Trace McSorley on a jet sweep and then bulled his way to a 13-yard touchdown run.

(Watch it here.)

After a 2016 season when Stevens — the backup quarterback — was Penn State's No. 3 rusher, with 198 yards and a gaudy 9.4-yard average.

After a set of spring practices that head coach James Franklin routinely and loudly spent singing Stevens' praises.

And after a Blue-White Game where Stevens threw for three touchdown passes and 216 yards in just two quarters of work.

If not after all that, then now. Now:

More and Moorhead, Penn State's coaches have to be thinking, "How can we get Tommy the ball more in 2017?"

We might have the answer: Princeton.

It's very possible that Franklin and his O-coordinator Joe Moorhead have already looked 224 miles to the east to see what the Princeton Tigers are doing with their own innovative offense. And that's using two quarterbacks in the backfield at the same time.

With great success.


Princeton went 8-2 in 2016, winning a share of the Ivy League crown for the second time in four years and scoring an average of almost 35 points per game. Chad Kanoff, who Franklin knows all-too-well, was the starting quarterback, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound prototype pocket passer. He completed 61.8% of his passes last season, and has thrown for over 4,000 yards as a two-year starter.

But it's the "other" quarterback, John Lovett (6-3, 205), who won the Bushnell Cup as the Ivy's top offensive player.

Here's where my buddy Bruce Wood comes in. A Penn State alum, Wood covers Dartmouth football and runs the blog He saw the Big Green lose 38-21 to Princeton last year, when Lovett ran for two TDs and passed for a third as Princeton scored 31 second-half points. Here is Wood's take on the Tigers' Twin QB Offense:

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Kanoff finished the 10-game season completing 168-of-272 passes for 1,741 yards, with six touchdowns and six interceptions. He absolutely would have had more TDs if not for Lovett's remarkable production.

Frequently on the field at the same time as Kanoff, Lovett ran 98 times for 411 yards and 20 touchdowns, and caught 26 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown. With defenses having to respect his running ability, Lovett actually passed more effectively  than Kanoff, completing 51-of-77 passes (66.2%) for 582 yards, with 10 TD passes and two interceptions.

Believe it or not, Princeton would sometimes have three quarterbacks on the field at the same time.

"Oh," you have to be salivating a bit at this point and thinking, "I bet Saquon can throw the ball, too."


For a visual of how it works, watch this clip from Princeton's 2016 preseason:




There's no doubt that Franklin knows all about this stuff, because Kanoff was on Franklin's roster at Vanderbilt. For six weeks, anyway. True. As a prep star out of Harvard Westlake High School in Pacific Palisades, Calif., Kanoff was the No. 14 nationally-ranked dual-threat high school quarterback in the country, with 85 career TDs (passing and running).

Kanoff committed to Franklin and signed as a quarterback with Vanderbilt in February 2013 (CJF came to PSU in January 2014), then left the next month for Princeton. And Kanoff has been there ever since.

And if Franklin isn't totally up on what Kanoff is doing these days (but, he is), someone else on Penn State's staff can help him out. Former Penn State wide receiver Andrew Goodman spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons at Princeton, as the Tigers' assistant director of football operations. Goodman returned to his alma mater just before the 2017 Rose Bowl, and is now an assistant recruiting coordinator for the Nittany Lions. (Read more here.)


In 2016, Princeton's offense led the Ivy League in scoring, total offense and rushing offense. Their head coach, Bob Surace, is a three-time finalist for the Eddie Robinson Jr. national coach of the year award. But the twin towers offense was under the control of James Perry, who left Princeton in the off-season to become the head coach at Bryant University in Rhode Island. Remember that name.

As a QB at Brown (a scrappy yet brainy QB named Joe Paterno preceded Perry there by several decades), Perry held virtually every school and Ivy League passing record, including passing yards in a season (3,255) and career (9,294), completions in a season (309) and career (789), TD passes in a game (6) and career (74), and total offense in a career (9,326). Under Perry in 2013, Princeton won the Ivy League title while averaging 43.7 points and 511 yards per game.

You know that file folder Franklin keeps of prospective assistant coaches? (The one with names in case @BallCoachJoeMo leaves anytime soon?) Well, you'd have to think Perry's resume might be in it.

Not sure? Well, what if I told you that James (not Jim) Perry was an offensive grad assistant at Maryland in 2004-05? Right. James (not Jim) Franklin was the wide receivers coach at Maryland in 2004.

(How's this for another ironic Penn State connection: Perry's older brother John is the tight ends coach for the Houston Texans, working under Mister Bill O'Brien. Seems the Perrys and O'Brien and his brothers all grew up together in Andover, Mass. Another PSU aside: Joining Lovett and Kanoff as Princeton team captains in 2017 is defensive lineman Kurt Holuba. His dad, Bob, was a two-year starter at guard for Penn State, and his grandfather Stanley — who made a fortune in the detergent business in New Jersey — put up $1 million for Penn State to build the eponymous Holuba Hall in 1986.)

You'll like Perry's first pitch on the day he was named Bryant's head coach:

"Come out and watch us attack that football field, because it's going to be fun," he said. "The football field is a huge playing surface, and we want to use all of it."


So, maybe we will see some Chad & John out of Trace & Tommy in 2017. Here's what Perry had to say about Lovett, the slash QB who also plays RB, prior to last season. He's talking about Lovett, but perhaps you can imagine he's also describing Stevens, all 6-4 and 224 pounds of him:

"He allows us credibility two ways," Perry said. "One, because he has great ability. He's a very athletic guy. He throws the ball very well. So that opens up the door for a lot of things.

"And two, he's a very willing kid. There's almost nothing you can ask him to do that he won't do 100%. So when we ask him to do a little something outside the box, he really embraces it."

None of this is to say that McSorley and Stevens will be on the field together a great deal in 2017. After all, Saquon Barkley is already in the Penn State backfield. And besides, if one of Penn State's two QBs gets hurt, Franklin has been fretting a lot lately about not having a No. 3.

But...a couple times in March and April a grinning Franklin did coyly promise some "new wrinkles" in September and October.

Maybe that's because he knows he has a tiger by the tail.

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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