Penn State Football: Tommy Stevens Will Be Yuuuge in the Blue-White Game
James Franklin won't make the same mistake twice, one year removed.
So, in Saturday's Blue-White Game, look for Tommy Stevens to have a YUUUGE day.
Beautiful. Great. Tremendous. Unbelievable. (Did I say "great?") #Awesome.
James owes him one.
A year ago, in the Blue-White Game when Penn State's starting quarterback job was ostensibly still up for grabs, Trace McSorley passed wild with the first unit, completing 23 of 27 passes for 281 yards and four TDs.
Stevens, on the other hand, was behind center with the Blue first unit for only five of his 37 snaps during the scrimmage.
There were a number of reasons for that, beginning with McSorley having the inside track for the starting job. And rightly so.
Stevens' time with the first-string was also limited by a fourth-quarter shortened by a limited TV window; a fourth-quarter drive led by third-string QB Billy Fessler that ate up 5:49, nine plays and 51 yards and kept Stevens from a final planned go with the first team; and Stevens’ quick success in his sole run with the first team, quarterbacking them to a TD drive that covered 84 yards in just 195 seconds.
Overall, Stevens completed 10 of 17 passes for 100 yards — while going 3 of 3 for 52 yards with the first unit. He also ran for 18 yards on 12 carries. (McSorley had four runs for minus 14 yards.)
Still, the sting was felt all the way into June, when Franklin admitted, "So Tommy’s pissed at me, Tommy’s mom is pissed at me. The plan was for him to get two series. But the way the game played out, we weren’t able to do that.”
533 TO 24
McSorley was named the starter during summer drills -- he found out on his 21st birthday, Aug. 23, of all things. And he certainly took the cake in 2016, when it was all 3,979 yards and 36 TDs said and done. Last season, McSorley had 533 total runs and passes; Stevens had 24.
Still, Stevens sparkled in limited appearances in 2016, especially with his feet. His 198 yards were No. 3 on the team, behind some guy named Saquon and McSorley, and ahead of running backs named Miles, Andre and Mark. Stevens averaged 9.4 yards per carry, on 21 rushes. Averaged. Stevens scored a pair of TDs, including a 13-yard jet sweep against Iowa when he lined up as a wide receiver. He also scored on a 12-yard run in the rain, snow and sleet of night against Rutgers, against whom he also had a 31-yard run. Passing, he completed 2 of 3 throws for 36. But he's shown plenty of arm in practice since he arrived on campus in January 2015.
Franklin loves the guy. (Man crush territory, even.) Just not enough to start him over McSorley.
But certainly enough to sing his praises every chance he gets. In part, because Stevens — at 6-foot-4 and pushing 230 — clearly has talent and is ever-improving and maturing, on and off the field. And in part, because McSorley could go down on one play and Stevens would have to be The Man on the very next play.
And, for a third part, the Nittany Lions clearly do not have a strong No. 3 quarterback right now, as Franklin himself said on Wednesday. (Although that situation could change when big and big-time freshman QB Sean Clifford arrives in June.)
The last thing Franklin wants Stevens to do is make a declaration of independence and transfer. Stevens will be a junior academically in the fall, with three years of eligibility remaining. McSorley, who will be a senior academically in the fall, has two years of eligibility remaining. So, most likely, if McSorley doesn't go pro after the 2017 season, Stevens might have to wait two more years for the starting job.
WARNING: IF YOUR NAME IS THOMAS MASON STEVENS OF INDIANAPOLIS, IND., DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING FIVE PARAGRAPHS:
Franklin doesn't like to juggle starters at quarterback. In three seasons at Penn State, he's had two starters — McSorley and Christian Hackenberg (2014-15). The starters threw 1,230 passes, their back-ups just 52.
When Franklin was at Vanderbilt, after incumbent Larry Smith started 3-3 in 2011, Jordan Rodgers took over and kept the job for the next 18 games (2011-12). Austyn Carta-Samuels was Vandy's starter in 2013, and left the lineup (and came back) only after getting injured.
As the QB coach and O-coordinator at Maryland and Kansas State, Franklin was a one-quarterback man. Redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien started all 13 games for the Terps in 2010. Chris Turner started all but the 2008 season-opener in 2008-2009 under Franklin; he got the Game 2 nod in 2008 when starter Jordan Steffy was hurt in the first game and never relinquished it. In his two seasons at K-State, Franklin started Josh Freeman 25 straight games.
As Franklin has said more than once, he likes routine and order and consistency.
At Fordham, Joe Moorhead was mostly a one-quarterback coach as well, especially when the QB was two-year (2013-14) starter Michael Nebrich, of whom McSorley is nearly a Northern Virginia clone. Nebrich was to be Fordham's starter in 2012, but he got hurt early. And in 2015, Moorhead went exclusively with freshman Kevin Anderson at QB, who threw all but 11 of Fordham's 353 passes in Moorpoints' final season with the Rams.
Not that Stevens won't see the playing field. But it's unlikely that he'll beat out McSorley. Meantime, Franklin is doing his darndest to keep Stevens engaged.
"Tommy has to keep his eye on the prize, and he's been excellent at that," Franklin said on March 21, at the start of spring drills. "I thought last year, when we made the decision and named the starting quarterback, that was hard at first. I thought Tommy handled it really well and, throughout the season, I thought he prepared to be the starter and he was ready to go. I think we all saw that when he got opportunities, he showed that he's got an exciting future here at Penn State.
"What he can't do is he can't change that. He can't lose that. He's got to have that approach every single day that he's going to prepare as if he's the starter. He's going to take the next step in every area. His footwork, his release, his arm strength, his accuracy, his understanding and grasp of the entire offense, his leadership on offense, his leadership with the whole team; it's the whole deal.
"We really look at it as if we have two starting quarterbacks that we feel like we can win with. I think Tommy realizes that and he needs to approach it that way for the long term, because what I found in my 23 years is the minute you let your guard down, that's when the opportunity comes. So you have to keep preparing and make sure that when your time comes and opportunity knocks that you're ready to open the door and be ready to maximize that opportunity."
AND MORE OF THE SAME FROM JAMES
Last Wednesday, when asked a question about McSorley's increase in strength over the off-season, Franklin used it as an opportunity to work Stevens into the conversation.
"...And I think that's where you've really seen Tommy develop as well -- his lower body mechanics and some of his upper body mechanics, and just getting bigger and stronger," Franklin said on April 12. "I forget what Tommy was when he got here — I think he was 195 pounds, if I'm correct. I think he's about 230 now."
And then again when he met with the media this Wednesday, right out of the box Franklin had a cheat sheet of notes, and Stevens' name was on the top of the list.
"I want to visit with you a bit about guys who have stood out over the course of the spring," Franklin said. "I think Tommy Stevens has really had a good spring. I'm very, very pleased with the progress he has made every year since he's been here. He's really playing at a high level. We have two quarterbacks right now we feel really confident in. He's handled everything really extremely well. He's got the whole team's respect."
TRY, TRY AGAIN
So, Saturday is a definitely a mulligan-in-the-making, even though CJF doesn't golf.
Look for Stevens to get a lot more than five snaps with the first unit, and look for him to shine. He should. He's good. Very good.
And you'll know where Stevens really stands if he sees red at half-time (instead of post-game) — at the half, the Red Worrell Award, which goes to the most improved offensive player of the spring, is handed out.
Wide receiver Juwan Johnson is a possible candidate, as well.
But don't be surprised if the honor goes to Stevens. James Franklin just might stuff the ballot box.
It would be beautiful. You know: Make Tommy Stevens Great Again.