Trace McSorley’s second season in the spotlight is fast approaching, but Penn State’s offense can’t neglect its backup quarterback in Tommy Stevens this fall. He simply needs to be a part of the game plan in some capacity.
No one’s saying a two-quarterback system is even remotely the way to go. We saw the inconsistency of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin when they were constantly looking over their shoulder after an interception. But Stevens, a redshirt sophomore out of Indianapolis, is too good to relegate to the sidelines completely.
Stevens could easily start at a host of other Power Five schools, but thankfully James Franklin has kept him invested in the program’s big-picture goals, like winning another Big Ten championship and making the College Football Playoff.
He carved up the second-string defense for 216 passing yards and three touchdowns in the second half of April’s Blue-White Game — the first extended action we’ve seen of the 6-foot-4 dual-threat. Last year as a redshirt freshman, Stevens notched rushing touchdowns in garbage time against Iowa and Rutgers, the former coming on a 13-yard jet sweep bulldozing of star corner Desmond King.
Florida’s 2006 quarterback situation featuring senior Chris Leak and a freshman named Tim Tebow is one example of a successful way to keep defenses on their heels all season long. Even if Stevens is still just cleaning up the fourth quarter of sure wins, it would be nice to see second-year offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead unleash him a little bit.
He and McSorley have a bevvy of options in the skill player department, with veterans like DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki sprinkled in alongside promising sophomores Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles, among many others. That’s not to mention All-American candidate Saquon Barkley and a stable of talented running backs.
“There are a lot of what I like to call freaks on our football team. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of,” Stevens said after the spring game. “I didn’t really experience that in high school. Collectively, there are a lot of guys that are extremely good football players, and I couldn’t be happier working with them.”
Though McSorley is an accomplished runner himself, Stevens will likely prove to be the better scrambler when his time comes to truly take over the offense. His ability to lower the shoulder for a first down when need be is essential against the monstrous defensive lines of Ohio State and Michigan, and a major advantage versus less accomplished opponents.
Of course, McSorley has another year of eligibility left in 2018, and seeing as he lacks the prototypical size of an NFL quarterback, it’s unlikely the Ashburn, Va., native leaves Penn State early — barring a Heisman-caliber season. If he does stay as expected, we’ll almost certainly be having this conversation again next summer.
Assuming no major shakeups to the depth chart, Stevens would be in line to take the starting job in 2019 — his final year on campus. The Nittany Lions will also have reserve arms in Jake Zembiec, Sean Clifford, Will Levis, and a potential recruit next cycle on the roster to liven up the competition.
Stevens should have more opportunities to show what he can do with a full playbook at his disposal this fall. The only question is how often Moorhead will incorporate special packages to maximize his backup’s talents. While McSorley and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett battle it out once more for the title of Big Ten’s best quarterback, Stevens will be ready to roll when his number is called.