STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State's Blue-White Game seldom surprises. OK, just about never.
It is a nice little exercise to cap spring practice. The stars mostly sit. The subs mostly shine. The plays are vanilla, the final score forgettable. As long as the lads avoid serious injury, the coaches are happy.
Saturday's game didn’t offer any revelations, either.
It did offer this reminder, however: Tommy Stevens can play.
He is the backup quarterback to Trace McSorley, who excelled last season and is on the early Heisman watchlists this year. Yet Stevens, who will be a redshirt sophomore this fall, continues to offer evidence that the Lions would scarcely skip a beat if he had to play (always a possibility, given the punishment McSorley tends to take).
On Saturday Stevens elevated a drab affair to palatability by going 17-for-24 for 216 yards and three touchdowns while playing a half in relief of McSorley, as the Blue beat the White, 26-0.
The asterisks, of course, are many. Stevens was facing overmatched backups, and the quarterbacks were not allowed to be touched (though Philadelphia native Shareef Miller, amid a two-sack day, accidentally leveled reserve QB Billy Fessler with a blindside rush in the first half, on a play where he appeared to be pushed from behind).
All that taken into account, Stevens looked confident and sure of himself, checking down to running back Andre Robinson for a nine-yard touchdown in the third quarter and firing darts to Brandon Polk and Juwan Johnson for respective TDs covering 31 and 15 yards in the fourth.
"What you (media) guys are starting to see more of, we've been seeing in practice," coach James Franklin said. "I think we've got two quarterbacks that we can win with, and you have to have that."
The Langhorne native has been saying that for a while now. He said it heading into last year – that there was a true competition between Stevens and McSorley for the No. 1 job, even though McSorley had seen game action in 2015 and Stevens had not.
Franklin and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead met individually with the two quarterbacks shortly before last season and informed them of their decision. Then McSorley led the Lions to a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth.
The 6-4, 224-pound Stevens appeared in seven games and actually finished as the team's third-leading rusher, with 198 yards on 21 attempts (9.4 a pop). He also scored twice but tried just three passes, completing two.
Franklin nonetheless maintained this was a plug-and-play situation, that he would have been comfortable putting Stevens out there at any moment. And Stevens, to his credit, never sulked.
"I just try to come to work, prepare myself and just be ready for an opportunity when it shows up," he said.
That's not an easy role to accept. Stevens, an Indianapolis native, had been a finalist for the Gatorade Player of the Year in his home state his final high school season (2014). Nobody goes anywhere expecting to sit.
"As you might imagine, it's tough at times," he said, "but at the same time, I try not to make this about me. I don't want it to be about me. It's just coming in to do my job, help this team win – just do whatever I can."
Anything and everything.
"Obviously you didn't see a whole lot of me (last) season," he said, "but some of the guys that were running with the (second string) at the beginning of the season then moved up and took starting roles, so I took pride in trying to get those guys prepared because it's not just me that’s got to be prepared to step in."
His spring has been such that he shared the Frank Patrick Total Commitment Award with McSorley and backup running back Josh McPhearson. Everybody realizes what Stevens has been asked to do, and what he might yet be asked to do.
The examples of backups coming to the fore at other schools are many. Just three years ago, Ohio State won a national championship with its third-stringer, Cardale Jones.
Franklin, for his part, fretted about who might fill the No. 3 role for the Lions this season, as Fessler is locked in a battle with Jake Zembiec and walk-on Michael Shuster.
"I think you really need three," the coach said. "I think we're short."
Not for long. One highly regarded recruit, Sean Clifford, will arrive this summer. An even more highly regarded prospect, Justin Fields, is committed for 2018.
But for now, there is McSorley, and there is Stevens.
The latter committed to Indiana in January 2014, then flipped to PSU 10 months later when the Lions lost another QB recruit, Brandon Wimbush, to Notre Dame.
Stevens enrolled early, redshirted, then got a taste of things in ‘16. And now he and McSorley appear virtually interchangeable.
"I had to be disciplined (last year)," Stevens said. "I had to go to work every day, be prepared because you never know. You never know what's going to happen."
That still holds true.