big ten

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 ranked No. 6 in AP Preseason poll

Penn State ranked No. 6 in AP Preseason poll

Full AP Preseason Top 25

Expectations are high in and around Happy Valley this year.

Expectations are just as high outside of Happy Valley, too, for James Franklin and Penn State.

The Nittany Lions check in at No. 6 in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, which was released Monday afternoon.

Alabama is No. 1 for the second consecutive preseason. The Crimson Tide is followed by Ohio State at No. 2, Florida State at No. 3, Southern Cal at No. 4 and defending champion Clemson at No. 5.

Coming off last season's Big Ten title run and trip to the Rose Bowl, the hype train for Penn State centers around Heisman Trophy hopefuls QB Trace McSorely and RB Saquan Barkley.

McSorely, now a senior, had a superb junior campaign last season, throwing for 3614 yards, 29 touchdowns and just eight picks.

Barkley, now a junior, deserves all the Heisman chatter as he was spectacular last season with 1496 rushing yards and 18 TDs in the ground. He also recorded 402 receiving yards and four TDs through the air.

The No. 6 ranking is the Nits' highest ranking in the preseason poll since 1999, when a team earmarked by LaVarr Arrington and Courtney Brown was ranked No. 3.

Penn State is one of four Big Ten teams in the preseason Top 25. Ohio State is No. 2, Wisconsin is No. 9 and Michigan is No. 11.

The Wolverines visit Beaver Stadium on Oct. 21. The Lions then head out to Columbus a week later for a titanic matchup with the Buckeyes at the Horseshoe.

Penn State's season kicks off on Sept. 2 with a visit from Akron.

Penn State loses in regular season finale at Iowa, 90-79

Penn State loses in regular season finale at Iowa, 90-79

BOX SCORE

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Senior star Peter Jok scored 20 of his 21 points in the second half and Iowa throttled Penn State 90-79 on Sunday, closing the regular season with four straight wins.

Nicholas Baer added 20 with 10 rebounds for the Hawkeyes (18-13, 10-8 Big Ten), who finished above .500 in conference play for the third year in a row.

Jok, starting his final scheduled home game, missed most of the first half after picking up two quick fouls. But the Hawkeyes reeled off a 14-0 run without him, jumping ahead 47-33 on a Jordan Bohannon 3 just before the end of the half.

Jok then opened the second half with 11 points in just three minutes, helping negate four consecutive made baskets by Penn State after the break. Jok's long 3 from the elbow made it 70-49 with 12:33 left -- and gave him 16 points in less than eight minutes.

Jok was pulled with 45 seconds left, and he got a standing ovation as he walked to the bench.

Josh Reaves had 25 points for the Nittany Lions (14-17, 6-12). They went on a 12-0 run and later closed with five straight baskets to make the final score look closer than the game actually was.

Big picture
Iowa: The Hawkeyes likely still have some work to do in next week's Big Ten Tournament. But the fact that they're in the NCAA Tournament discussion after a 3-5 start is remarkable -- as was the fact that, on Senior Day, 43 of their 47 first-half points came from underclassmen.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions had the Hawkeyes on their heels early, leading 25-24 at one point. But once Iowa found its footing, Penn State fell behind and never recovered. The Lions seem destined for a losing season barring a miraculous run in the Big Ten Tournament.

Up next
The Big Ten Tournament in Washington, D.C.