Tommy Stevens shines at QB during Penn State's Blue-White Game

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Tommy Stevens shines at QB during Penn State's Blue-White Game

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.

Penn State overcomes slow start, dominates Pittsburgh

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Penn State overcomes slow start, dominates Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- Trace McSorley threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as No. 13 Penn State pulled away for a 51-6 victory over sloppy Pittsburgh on Saturday night.

KJ Hamler ran 32 yards for a score and hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass from McSorley as the Nittany Lions (2-0) bounced back from an opening week scare against Appalachian State to dominate their 99th meeting with the Panthers (1-1).

McSorley finished 14 of 30 for 145 yards in the rain at soggy Heinz Field, giving him a measure of redemption. Two years ago, Pitt edged the Nittany Lions at home, a loss that ultimately cost Penn State a spot in the College Football Playoff.

The memory stuck with McSorley, who had a far different feeling this time around.

"I think it's something, it might have fueled me a little bit more knowing we were returning here and had an opportunity to get that bad taste out of our mouths and things like that," McSorley said. "It's a lot sweeter, able to leave the field with a good victory tonight."

Miles Sanders ran for 118 yards for the Nittany Lions, DeAndre Thompson returned a punt 39 yards for a touchdown and Penn State limited Pitt to just 89 yards in the second half.

"We played really clutch defense," Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said. "So I think we made some really good strides."

There are no plans for the rivalry to continue beyond next year's game at Beaver Stadium.

Considering how things went in the second half that might not be a bad thing for either side. Penn State's margin of victory was the third-largest by either team in a series that dates to 1893. The chants of "We Are ... Penn State" rang throughout the stadium in the final minutes.

Pitt senior Qadree Ollison ran for 119 yards and a 13-yard score for Pitt, but went nowhere after halftime. Neither did the Panthers. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett struggled in the steady rain, completing just 9 of 18 passes for 55 yards. Pickett also ran for 30 yards, but spent most of the night under heavy pressure. He was sacked four times and took a handful of jarring hits when he was able to scramble for positive yardage.

"Ultimately, everything lays right on my chest," Panther coach Pat Narduzzi said. "I'll take it all. We obviously didn't have them ready to go in any capacity: offensively, defensively or special teams."

The blowout finish seemed unlikely late in the first half. Penn State led just 7-6 with a minute to go before Pitt began self-destructing. Punter Kirk Christodoulou dropped a snap and the Nittany Lions took over in Pitt territory. McSorley needed just three plays to find Hamler to put the Nittany Lions up 14-6 at the break.

It was all Penn State after that. McSorley scored on a 4-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, a Pitt penalty in the end zone resulted in a safety minutes later, and when Thompson took a punt at the 39 and veered to his left to race untouched to the end zone, the Nittany Lions were firmly in control.

Pitt did plenty to help Penn State pull away. The Panthers were flagged 14 times for 116 yards -- including an unsportsmanlike call on Narduzzi -- turned it over three times and provided no response when the Nittany Lions got serious.

"I've never seen so many penalties in one game," Narduzzi said. "It starts with my 15 yarder. But 14 penalties . embarrassing. There were some good calls, too. I'm not saying the officiating was bad. We just had some stuff that just snowballed on us. It starts with me."

No. 10 Penn State avoids upset with OT win over Appalachian State

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No. 10 Penn State avoids upset with OT win over Appalachian State

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.  — After squandering a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead to a program with a history of being a giant killer, things grew tense in Happy Valley.

Not for Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley.

The Heisman Trophy hopeful led a game-tying drive with less than a minute to go to force overtime and No. 10 Penn State rebounded to hold off Appalachian State 45-38 exactly 11 years after the Mountaineers stunned Michigan in one of the biggest upsets in college football history.

With two defenders in his face, McSorley, who was 21-for-36 passing for 230 yards and two rushing touchdowns, fired off his back foot to KJ Hamler for the 15-yard score with 42 seconds left. Penn State's defense held on to send the game to overtime where Miles Sanders scored the go-ahead touchdown for the Nittany Lions (1-0) and cornerback Amani Oruwariye intercepted a Zac Thomas pass in the end zone to seal the win.

"I don't know what's in the water in Boone, North Carolina, but it seems like they've been doing this for a long time against whoever they play," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "I started the game at 46 years old. I ended it at 51."

McSorley went on the field with 1:47 left and his team trailing 38-31 after watching the Mountaineers score on three straight possessions over 5:53 in the fourth quarter. Any stress?

"Not really," McSorley said. "I think it's just because I love playing football and I think that's the best thing about our team. Everyone loves playing football. There's no one out there who's nervous."

Sanders, who played well in Saquon Barkley's shadow the last two seasons, looked calm taking over primary rushing duties. He ran 19 times for 91 yards with two touchdowns, but it took a Jake Pinegar field goal to let Penn State head into halftime in a 10-10 tie.

In fact, the Mountaineers controlled much of the game before that and rebounded after surrendering two scoring drives to open the third. Thomas, who was briefly knocked out of the game after being sandwiched violently between defenders early in the fourth, led the way in front of more than 105,000 people, Penn State's largest home-opening crowd in a decade.

Making his first career start, Thomas completed 25 of 38 passes for 270 yards, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another for Appalachian State (0-1). Jalin Moore ran 18 times for 88 yards and scored a go-ahead touchdown on a 16-yard run. Malik Williams caught two touchdowns for the Mountaineers and Chandler Staton added a 38-yard field goal.

"That was a resounding yes that we won't back down, we will keep fighting," Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield said. "That's the heart of our program for the last 30 years. (At least) since I've been here."

History nearly repeats

In 2007, it was No. 5. Michigan fighting for its life trying to make a game-winning kick at home against the I-AA Mountaineers. But Corey Lynch blocked Michigan's field-goal attempt to seal the 34-32 win. No I-AA team had ever beaten a team ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 poll between 1989 and 2006, and it's unlikely it had ever happened before. Afterward, the AP changed the way it conducted its poll, allowing schools from all divisions to be eligible to receive votes.

On Saturday, another storied Big Ten program was on its heels against the Mountaineers, a Sun Belt Conference powerhouse that went 8-4 a year ago. There was a late field-goal try, too, but the 56-yard bid from Staton sailed wide right to set up OT.

The takeaway 

Appalachian State: The Mountaineers continued their trend of playing Top 25 teams tough in season openers. Two years ago, they also lost in overtime on the road to a top 10 opponent (20-13 to No. 9 Tennessee) and hung tough against Georgia last season. They controlled play for much of the first half and looked poised to deliver another stunning performance after their 2007 stunner over Michigan in The Big House. Despite the loss, they appear to have the pieces to make a run at what would be at their third straight Sun Belt championship.

Penn State: Having lost their three top playmakers and vaunted offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who took over as Mississippi State's head coach, the Nittany Lion offense looks like a work in progress. McSorley can do plenty with his legs if he and his receivers aren't on the same page but Penn State's defense couldn't get a stop in the fourth quarter where the Nittany Lions were outgained and outscored 28-14.

Poll implications

Penn State: It wasn't a pretty showing by any means, but the Nittany Lions have enough talent and one of the best players in the country in McSorley to stay among the poll's elites.

Up next

Appalachian State travels to Charlotte on Sept. 8

Penn State visits Pittsburgh on Sept. 8.