Penn State Football: Levis Says Quarterbacks Will Still Make a Run for It
Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens ran the football 549 times in Penn State’s last 41 games, dating back to the TaxSlayer Bowl.
That’s an average of over 13 quarterback carries a game.
(For comparison’s sake, Miles Sanders averaged just under 17 rushes per game in 2018, as did Saquon Barkley in 2017.)
The two Nittany Lion quarterbacks are now gone, as are their combined 2,203 career rushing yards — McSorley, 473 carries for 1,697 yards, and Stevens, 76 for 506.
Is Penn State’s dual threat quarterback game gone as well?
Second-year quarterback Will Levis, the backup to presumptive starter Sean Clifford, a redshirt sophomore, says no. Empatically.
“I don’t see the offense changing one bit,” Levis, a 6-foot-3, 236-pounder, said two weeks ago. “I don’t think there are going to be any changes in the offense. We did the same thing in the spring offensively and we did pretty good running the ball.”
The cupboards may not be bare, but — with apologies to Bill Parcells — they certainly are stocked with lots of new groceries.
Production-wise, Penn State returns just 13% of its overall rushing yards and 12% of its carries from 2018. Running back Ricky Slade leads the way, with 45 carries for 257 yards and six TDs. Running back Journey Brown (eight carries) and receivers K.J. Hamler (four carries) are next, with 44 yards each. Receiver Justin Shorter had one carry for nine yards.
In four games in 2018, Clifford (6-2, 216) was credited with five carries, gaining 11 yards and losing 14, for a net loss of 22 inches per rush. Of course, Cliff did complete 5 of 7 passes for 195 yards and two TDs, and an off-the-charts QB rating of 399.71. (Last season, McSorley’s rating was 124.63 and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray’s was 199.2.)
“We don’t have a lot of tape of Sean or I running the ball,” Levis said. “But whoever is running the ball at quarterback this year will turn some heads.”
XAVIER AND ST. XAVIER
At Xavier High School in Madison, Conn., Levis earned his reputation as a pro-style passer, throwing for over 5,500 yards and 55 TDs in three seasons. He rushed 131 times for 327 yards, a 2.5-yard average, and 12 TDs.
Meanwhile, as a senior at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Clifford ran 152 times for 571 yards — a 3.4-yard average — and 12 TDs. Overall, Clifford set high school career records for rushing yards (1,110) and 20 TDs.
Hardly the high school running game history of McSorley, who ran for over 1,500 yards as a high school junior and senior, or Stevens, who rushed for 840 yards as a senior running a wishbone offense.
No matter, says Levis, who says he knew that coming to PSU meant running — figuratively and literally — the RPO. And that’s what Joe Moorhead told him when they talked during the recruiting process, Levis shared.
“Coming in, I knew what was going to be demanded of me,” Levis admitted. “I know what I was physically capable of. I knew that there were parts of my craft that I had to work on.”
Levis spent much of the 2018 season taking notes, watching how the more experienced veterans handled the offense. “We learned a great deal from Trace and Tommy,” Levis said. “They were great competitors.”
Levis, who will turn 20 in a bit more than two weeks from now (Clifford turns 21 next month), doesn’t lack for confidence. Or smarts — he had a 4.0 GPA in high school and earned a host of academic awards at Xavier.
“I think that we, as quarterbacks and an offense, can run the ball very effectively,” he said. “We have the physical talent to do as well as we’ve done in the past.”