Trace McSorley is the Heisman contender. He’s the show-stopper and the key to Penn State’s electric offense.
But Saturday’s Blue-White game belonged to the backup.
Tommy Stevens, a redshirt sophomore who showcased his ability to run in garbage time last season, finally gave everyone a look at how well he spins it, throwing for 216 yards and three touchdowns on 17 for 24 passing in the second half alone.
It was a confident performance by the Nittany Lions’ No. 2, one that screamed potential.
“In this situation right now, I don’t really feel pressed or nervous,” Stevens said with a smile. “I feel prepared every day when I come in to work. Just come in prepared, work as hard as I can, and that normally serves me pretty well.”
It certainly did in front of an estimated crowd of 71,000 on Saturday. Stevens has brought Beaver Stadium fans to their feet before — remember his reverse handoff score against Iowa?
But Stevens’ 50-yard heave to DeAndre Thompkins on Saturday afternoon, perfectly placed over the wideout’s shoulder along the right sideline, was something not seen before by him in a Penn State uniform. He showed his down-the-field range, but also awareness. A few plays later, instead of forcing a throw into the end zone, Stevens checked down to running back Andre Robinson, who skated nine yards for the afternoon’s first score.
Head coach James Franklin talked up the 6-foot-4 signal-caller all spring, and this showing only further established that assurance from teammates and coaches, should anything happen to McSorley.
“Tommy Stevens, man, that man is crazy,” said safety Ayron Monroe, who was on the White squad and faced the quarterback. “He looks like a big guy that’s just going to sit there and pocket pass, like boom and throw it. But this man has heat. He can extend the play, very similar to the way Trace does. You’re playing man coverage, pow pow pow, you’re on your man for three seconds, you think you’ve got him all bottled up. But, nope, here comes Tommy Stevens escaping.”
Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry heaped praise on Stevens, too, calling him “a gamer.”
“To me, at 75 percent of the programs out there he’d be a starter,” Pry said, emphasizing that last phrase. “He’d be a starter and a winner. ...We’re very fortunate to have him.”
But don’t expect him to start — at least at Penn State — in 2017 without McSorley suffering an injury. The Big Ten championship MVP had a rough afternoon, completing 13 of 21 passes for 114 yards. McSorley was picked off once, and there were a couple more left out on the field by the defense.
Still, that won’t change the quarterback situation heading into 2017. Unless Stevens decides to transfer elsewhere, he’ll sit idly by on Sept. 2 as McSorley rips up Akron.
And that’s hard to do for a player of his caliber.
“I’m sure you could imagine, it’s tough at times,” Stevens said of being the backup. “But at the same time, I try not to make this about me. I just want to do my job and help this team win.”
If Saturday was any indication, he’ll be poised to do so if the time comes in 2017.