James Franklin is No Closer to Answering Penn State’s No. 1 Question: Who is the No. 1 Quarterback?
It’s been 1,555 days since Tommy Stevens first stepped foot onto Penn State’s campus as an early enrollee freshman.
Stevens is still waiting to be named the starting quarterback.
The Blue-White Game on Saturday could have been another chance for the veteran quarterback to put his best foot forward.
But, alas, the fifth-year senior did not play. He dressed in full pads and uniform, participated in warm-up drills and did some medium-length throwing before the start of the second half.
But in the end, TMS was a DNP at QB.
That was not a surprise, since his reps in the spring were limited and he was on a pitch count as well.
Earlier in the week, Stevens’ father Tom told John McGonigal of the Centre Daily Times that if he’s “not Penn State’s quarterback, he’s going to be somebody’s quarterback. Everyone already knows, if he’s not playing at Penn State this year, he’s probably going to leave.”
As he did most of the spring, redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford ran the Nittany Lions’ No. 1 offense on Saturday, completing 11 of 19 passes for 118 yards and an 8-yard scoring toss to running back Noah Cain, while running six times for 31 yards.
Will Levis, the No. 3 quarterback behind Stevens and Clifford — or, is that Clifford and Stevens? — was 4 of 7 passing for 86 yards, with a 59-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Dan Chisena in the scrimmage, won 24-7 by Blue over White before an estimated 61,000 at Beaver Stadium.
WHAT JAMES SAID: THEN AND NOW
Afterwards, head coach James Franklin was non-committal about who the team’s starting quarterback will be heading into the 2019 season. Whoever he is, that starter will be the first one other Christian Hackenberg (38 starts) and Trace McSorley (40 starts) since 2013.
“The Tommy Stevens situation — you know, obviously for us, I’m a big believer in competition at every single position,” Franklin said after the game. “We haven’t named a starter at any position. His situation in some ways is similar to somebody like G.T. G.T’s been waiting for his time, he has to go take it.”
G.T. is returning safety Garrett Taylor, who started 12 games in 2018, ranked No. 8 in the Big Ten in interceptions and was the No. 3 tackler for Penn State last season, with 71 stops.
Stevens has never started a game at Penn State.
“Obviously," Franklin continued, "Tommy’s situation puts us in a tough spot because he had an injury that made it difficult. Obviously, we want to name the starter as soon as we possibly can. But, but, we’re not ready to do that right now. It’s going to be more of a true competition."
Obviously, at this point that seems obvious.
Let's rewind to early February...
Franklin’s comments on Saturday were a change in direction from February 6, when I asked the head coach, “Will Tommy Stevens be listed as your No. 1 quarterback on the spring depth chart?”
Back then, Franklin hemmed: “So obviously, we're not in a situation to name a starter really at any position.”
But he didn’t haw. Instead, he replied:
“But, yeah, when we start out, you know, you've got to put them in order. Tommy will be No. 1 and Sean will be No. 2 and (Will) Levis will be No. 3 and so forth down the line.”
WHAT RICKY SAID
On Saturday, Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne, who is also the quarterback coach — a spot he also held in 2014-15 — wasn’t ready to give Stevens the starting job either.
When would you like to name a starter, Rahne was asked after the game.
“As soon as that guy grabs it, you know what I mean?” Rahne said. “You want a starting quarterback as soon as that guy goes out there and grabs it by the reins. We’ve got some guys who have worked really hard for it across the board.
“Obviously, Tommy has some great experience. Cliff got some experience last year and Will has shown some incredible promise. You guys got to see his talent today on a couple of throws. I’m excited about all three of those guys.”
That’s when I chimed in to ask Rahne a follow-up question: “Is there a situation where you would name a starter before start of summer drills?”
Here’s what Rahne had to say:
“That’s something for Coach Franklin and I to talk about, you know,” Rahne said. “Obviously, there are a number of different things and you’re always thinking about ways to help your team. We’re going to look at it and see what is going to help this team win.”
So: Could be a yes, could be a no.
Not a ringing endorsement, at least if you’re Tommy Stevens.
Bottom-line, though, what Rahne saw of Stevens this spring, he liked:
“Tommy was able to do some skelly (7-on-7) this spring, and quite frankly, he was excellent.”
After five years, yeah...that’s obvious.