Does Penn State have two best QBs in Big Ten? Tommy Stevens’ Blue-White day makes you wonder
STATE COLLEGE – This might sound like an absurd statement because, well, it kind of is. Because it is not provable, probably never will be and is so purely hypothetical.
But if somehow they both could have played and started last year in parallel universes under the guidance of Joe Moorhead, I think Penn State would have the two best quarterbacks in the Big Ten right now. Tommy Stevens looked that good in Saturday’s Blue-White Game.
More absurdity. That I would even attempt to judge a completely untested QB based partly on an intrasquad scrimmage. I know.
But certain qualities jump out at you even in such circumstances as this goofy carnival game. Stevens just looks comfortable. Delivering the ball in rhythm, spinning a deep ball, checking down at the right moment, making sensible decisions. And yes, everything in this game is at 80-percent speed. But he just looks the part of a starting quarterback.
Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry agrees. Stevens and incumbent junior starter Trace McSorley represent certainly as good a 1-2 punch at quarterback as anyone in a B1G that isn’t exactly overloaded with ace No. 1 QBs:
“I’m a big Tommy Stevens fan. Him and Trace both. It’s one thing when you can run and can spin the ball. But when you have the type of mentality that those two guys have…
“And Tommy’s just so tough and aggressive. He’s just a gamer. And that’s what we love about him. I could easily see him lining up on the defensive side of the football.
“Tommy Stevens, to me, 75 percent of the programs out there, he’s a starter.”
And in a Big Ten in which the established leaders at the position – Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Michigan’s Wilton Speight – had all sorts of issues throwing accurately last November for various reasons, it’s not outlandish to think that had Stevens acquired their experience, he’d be superior now.
Of course, he hasn’t. And so he can’t be. He lost the quarterback job in camp last year by a smidge to McSorley and only got a handful of mop-up snaps last season.
But Stevens, he looked good on Saturday. He can’t beat out the de facto B1G MVP McSorley for the job. But if the little fighter pilot finally meets a knockout hit with his name on it, PSU actually might not miss a beat with Stevens in the bullpen.
In his one half of action (the second, with the Blue team) threw a couple of gorgeous deep balls, one caught for 50 yards down the right sideline by DeAndre Thompkins. He checked down comfortably off a slant to the end zone that wasn’t there and instead found running back Andre Robinson releasing into the flat for a little touch pass in stride that led him down the sideline to a 9-yard catch-and-run TD.
Stevens then found Brandon Polk with a looping strike between defenders in the fourth quarter for a 31-yard touchdown and finally zipped a 15-yard skinny post to a leaping Juwan Johnson for a third TD on the game’s final play.
Final stats, for what they’re worth: 17 of 24 for 216 yards with no picks and 3 TDs in about 13 minutes of play.
“What you guys are starting to see more of? We’ve been seeing this in practice,” said PSU head coach James Franklin. “Trace had a hell of a season and I get it; I know everyone should be excited about Trace.
“But I think we have two quarterbacks we can win with. … I’m glad we have two guys we can feel good about.”
Yes, it was a spring game. Yes, it’s one thing to do it in a scrimmage, another with an angry opponent. But Stevens looked like a guy everyone else in the league from Wisconsin to Rutgers would love to have compete for their starting job.
How can he look so comfortable when he’s barely played?
“It’s just been something that I’ve found within football,” said Stevens. “I don’t really feel pressed or nervous. I feel prepared every day when I come to work.
“I think I did a good job. There will be room to improve and I need to watch the film and critique myself. I’m pretty hard on myself and I want the best out of myself.
“But I feel I’ve had a much better spring than I did last year.”
That acknowledged, it must be frustrating to be a reserve particularly in a situation in which the incumbent clearly won’t be unseated barring injury, no?
“You could probably imagine. It’s tough at times. But I try not to make this about me. I don’t want it to be about me.
“I just come in, do my job, help this team win and do whatever I can.”
Every coach must think about the second and third and fourth contingencies at every position. Last year, Franklin had to actually implement them at a couple of position groups – OL and LB.
One of the few positions that wasn’t so tested was QB. When asked about Stevens, the coach immediately referenced him as a contingency in the way of LB Jan Johnson who found himself on the field as an emergency replacement in that decimated second defensive layer at Michigan before he himself left with a season-ending knee injury.
Of course, no one wants to see Penn State dealt such a blow at quarterback. Then again, based on what we saw Saturday, the Lions might be the most equipped side in the league to withstand it.
DAVID JONES: email@example.com