Backup QB Tommy Stevens a do-it-all option for No. 4 Penn State

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Backup QB Tommy Stevens a do-it-all option for No. 4 Penn State

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Tommy Stevens will take over as Penn State's starting quarterback eventually. Now, he's helping starter Trace McSorley any way he can. 

No. 4 Penn State's do-it-all backup has emerged as another option in a loaded offense. Stevens has run for, caught and thrown for touchdowns already and could see more opportunities as Penn State looks for more ways to incorporate its big, athletic backup heading into the Big Ten opener at Iowa on Saturday.

"It puts another weapon on the field," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "He's a big, strong, fast guy, and then obviously they have to be concerned about him throwing the ball as well. I think this package will just continue to evolve."

Stevens, who pushed McSorley for the starting job late into training camp last season, offers an intriguing option for an offense already with stars in Mike Gesicki and Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley. 

He can line up like either one or even split out like a traditional wide receiver. Stevens' knowledge of the offense gives him useful intelligence when it comes time to attack a defense from one of a handful of alignments.

Take his first career touchdown catch - which sparked Penn State's 52-0 rout of Georgia State on Saturday - as an example.

Stevens lined up as a tight end would, off the line of scrimmage and to McSorley's left. He slid right at the snap, hauled in a swing pass from McSorley and burst through Georgia State's secondary for an opening 10-yard score. 

Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead dialed up the play early in the week and surprised Stevens with it in practice.

"There weren't a whole lot of times we did it in practice where I actually caught the ball," Stevens said. "So I saw the (strong side linebacker) come off the edge and I was like, `Oh man, I'm actually going to catch the ball here.' So Trace did a good job of evading, giving me a great ball, I caught it and did my best to score."

His best is better than most backups who are usually relegated to holding clipboards and wearing headsets. 

The former Indiana high school standout entered Penn State with sub-4.7 40-yard-dash speed and his long strides coupled with his cutting ability made him a good dual-threat candidate to lead Moorhead's offense. But Stevens, a year behind the junior McSorley, was edged by McSorley's experience. So he immediately tried to find other ways to contribute.

It hasn't taken Moorhead long to work Stevens in. It began last year against the Iowa Hawkeyes, who now have to worry about Stevens even more when they meet on Saturday inside Kinnick Stadium.

Then, Stevens ran five times for 70 yards and added his first career touchdown in the 41-14 win.

Stevens enjoys the possibility that the Hawkeyes are likely preparing to see him on the field in one of many potential formations.

"Coach Moorhead has endless amounts of ideas about getting guys in space," Stevens said. "They've got to spend more time to put this kind of stuff in in practice for us." 

Moorhead doesn't have to change anything for Stevens if Penn State needs its backup to play his natural position. Franklin believes his No. 2 quarterback has a mastery of the offense on par with McSorley's.

Stevens got a chance to show off his quarterbacking skills - and a glimpse of what could be in store after McSorley exhausts his eligibility - on Saturday, too. 

After taking a hard hit on his first snap in relief of McSorley, Stevens threw a dart over the middle for a 35-yard touchdown to Saeed Blacknall. He took another big hit and watched Blacknall's catch from his backside.

Afterward, he sounded like a starting quarterback, making a point to refute the criticism he's heard of Blacknall's slow start. Instead, Stevens credited his big receiver for making the play, even though it was a perfectly thrown ball.

"Tommy shows that ability all the time," safety Marcus Allen said. "He has a second gear he can kick into. It's another dynamic and electrifying player like that on the field. We can put a lot of stress on a D because you don't know what we're going to hit you with."

Penn State's leading defense depends on swarming to ball

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Penn State's leading defense depends on swarming to ball

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — James Franklin's whistle is the last one Penn State players hear at practice, and sometimes the coach will hesitate before he blows plays dead.

He's waiting for a satisfactory number of white helmets to charge the ball carrier. It doesn't usually take long for him to see what he wants — eight, maybe nine defenders all converging on the football.

"You can take an average defense and be a good defense just by doing that one thing," Franklin said. "I think what we've been able to do is take a good defense and take it to that next category, whatever you call it, by doing a great job of running to the football."

It's helped cue a run in which the No. 2 Nittany Lions have allowed an FBS-low 9 points per game. They'll look to continue the trend against No. 19 Michigan on Saturday. They might need to in order to keep their national championship hopes alive, as the Wolverines will bring the nation's top overall defense to Happy Valley for Saturday's primetime showdown at Beaver Stadium.

The Wolverines are allowing just 223 yards per game and, like the Nittany Lions, are swarming to make tackles.

"It's not something you think about, it's just something that happens," Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer said. "You don't really see yourself not running to the football because it's so natural."

And because it's been stressed repeatedly over Franklin's three and a half seasons in charge.

In addition to his late whistles, Franklin will regularly step away from interviews with local reporters to scream at his players to run off the practice field. Further, he can point out statistics -- such as his team's plus-12 turnover differential — supporting his claim that collective hustle makes a difference.

Without it, Franklin knows the 17 takeaways his team has this year could be much closer to the nine it had at this point last season.

"Think about how many times last year the ball was on the ground as a fumble and we didn't come up with it," Franklin said. "This year we're coming up with those fumbles because we got more people around the ball."

Franklin's philosophy is echoed by his defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who's based his schemes on one principle.

"We're a staff that believes in team speed," Pry said. "It's noticeable right now, especially in the back seven. I think we're running really well."

Pry has confidence that Penn State's athletic group of linebackers can roam sideline to sideline. Starters Jason Cabinda, Manny Bowen and Farmer — a converted safety — have combined to help on 49 tackles. On the back end, safeties Marcus Allen and Troy Apke and corners Grant Haley and Christian Campbell have chipped in 34 helpers.

His defense's ability to pursue and gang tackle gives Pry even more confidence to call blitzes. It's made Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wary, too. Harbaugh said Monday he wasn't yet sure of the best way to attack the Penn State's defense.

"Don't see them giving up a lot of big plays in the running game or the passing game, which means they're really sound," Harbaugh said. "You can already see really good players in the front seven and in the secondary. They get to the ball, they close up gaps and they're rarely out of position."

Franklin might as well have repeated Harbaugh's concern Tuesday. Penn State's coach worked with Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown at Maryland and sees the same qualities that make his own unit so effective.

"The way they play defensive football, we're going to have some challenges," Franklin said. "You're going to be watching two of the best defensive coordinators in college football. Which probably doesn't get any more Big Ten than that, defensive football."

Jerry Sandusky denied new trial on child sex abuse charges

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Jerry Sandusky denied new trial on child sex abuse charges

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Jerry Sandusky lost a bid Wednesday for a new trial and a second chance to convince a jury he is innocent of the child sexual abuse charges that landed him in state prison to serve a lengthy sentence.

Judge John Foradora denied Sandusky's requests for a new trial or for dismissal of charges.

The former Penn State assistant football coach's lawyers said they were disappointed and planned to appeal the decision to Superior Court.

"The court's decision is not the end of Jerry's case, it is only the closing of a chapter which we need to go through in the course of our endeavor to obtain a new trial, a reversal of his conviction, and ultimately his release and vindication," said defense attorney Al Lindsay.

Sandusky, 73, has consistently maintained he was wrongly convicted. He argued that he did not receive adequate representation at his 2012 trial and that prosecutors should have disclosed more details about changes to victims' stories.

"Although he was denied access to the victims' psychological records, Sandusky was permitted to call witnesses to explore whether the victims had undergone repressed memory therapy prior to trial, and he did explore that subject" with victims and other witnesses, Foradora wrote.

Foradora also rejected arguments that Sandusky's lawyers should not have let him waive a preliminary hearing, should not have allowed him to give a television interview after his arrest, and should have done more to challenge the identity of a young man described as Victim 2 in court records.

The judge said the bulk of Sandusky's claims lacked merit.

"Those that remain, whether they fail for want of prejudice or because (trial defense attorney Joe) Amendola's actions or failure to act were informed by a reasonable strategy, do not combine to call into question the overall effectiveness of the defense counsel provided or the legitimacy of the verdict," Foradora concluded.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said prosecutors have "achieved justice" for Sandusky's victims and are confident the convictions will stand.

"Hopefully, today's decision will allow the victims of Mr. Sandusky to live their lives knowing that this serial sexual abuser will remain behind bars," said Shapiro, a Democrat.

Sandusky has been serving a 30- to 60-year sentence. Eight of his accusers testified at trial, describing abuse that ranged from grooming and fondling to violent sexual attacks.

The case, among the biggest scandals in college football history, led to major changes at Penn State and new state laws governing child abuse in Pennsylvania and other states.

Sandusky spent three decades at the university as an assistant to Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno before retiring in 1999.

The decision follows previous rulings against Sandusky by the state's Supreme and Superior courts.

Foradora was brought in nearly a year ago after the trial judge, John Cleland, removed himself in response to sharp criticism by Sandusky's lawyers of a meeting that Cleland participated in before Sandusky waived a preliminary hearing in 2011.

Penn State's former president, Graham Spanier, and two other ex-administrators, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, were sentenced to jail time earlier this year after Spanier was found guilty and the others pleaded guilty to child endangerment for their handling of a 2001 complaint about Sandusky showering with a boy. Spanier is free on bail while he appeals his conviction.

The scandal has cost Penn State more than $200 million in fines, settlements and other costs, and the football program was hit with significant NCAA penalties that were later dialed back.