Penn State’s Tommy Stevens — eye black smudged on his cheeks, sweat still dripping from his forehead — walked toward the hooting and hollering section behind the Nittany Lion bench with a permanent smile.
But before handing his gloves to a young fan, the backup quarterback was greeted by teammate and friend Juwan Johnson. The wideout put his left arm around Stevens’ shoulder and pulled him in close.
“I told him I loved him,” Johnson said, “for him just being so patient and taking the opportunities that he had. He’s been so trusting in the process that he’s been through. I just told how proud I am of him and that I love him.”
Starting quarterback Trace McSorley had three touchdowns and nearly 300 total yards, but Stevens was the story of Saturday night’s 66-3 win over the Terrapins.
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The redshirt sophomore led Penn State with 113 rushing yards, ran for three touchdowns and threw for one, too. His 21-yard fake reverse touchdown dash on Penn State’s first drive set the tone, and after taking over for McSorley with 5:47 to go in the third quarter, Stevens finished off three second-half scoring drives. He whipped in a four-yard dart to Tom Pancoast and powered for four- and six-yard touchdown bursts.
Stevens capped a regular season of unpredictability and intriguing usage by feasting on Maryland’s defense both in Joe Moorhead’s wacky two-quarterback package and as a regular signal-caller.
“I’ve proven that I can embrace different roles,” Stevens said. “I think that I’ve showed my teammates that whatever the situation may be, I’m going to play as hard as I can and try to be as good of a teammate I can be. I hope through all of this my teammates think that I’ve done everything that I can for this team. I hope that I’ve showed that to them.”
He has without question.
McSorley was proud to see Stevens account for 24 of Penn State’s 66 points. Senior tight end Mike Gesicki said the same.
“I was really happy for Tommy,” Gesicki said. “Tommy, like he’s done his entire career here, made the most of his opportunities.”
Added senior linebacker Jason Cabinda: “He just doesn’t complain. And there are a ton of places around the country that he could be starting at right now.”
Instead, Stevens is — as Gesicki called him last week — Penn State’s “All-American decoy.”
Defenses don’t know what do with him, but Moorhead does. With McSorley entrenched as the starter, the offensive coordinator has found ways to get Stevens involved in the passing and running game. Some may call it gimmicky. Others would say it’s using the team’s most versatile weapon.
Stevens — a guy who grew up playing running back, wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, safety and cornerback — has proved to be the Big Ten version of a Swiss army knife.
“I’m not sure how many positions I could play,” Stevens said with a smile. “I don’t think I could play offensive line. I don’t really have the body for that. But whatever it is, I’m going to try as hard as I can at it.”
That’s what Johnson loves him for. It’s what his teammates appreciate and respect.
No matter the circumstances — even though he could be somewhere else, starting for another Power 5 program — Stevens is a Nittany Lion, someone that cares about contributing to wins.
Well, he did more than contribute on Saturday night. He dominated.
“We’ve got a pretty good quarterback in Trace McSorley,” head coach James Franklin said. “We got a damn good quarterback as well in our backup Tommy Stevens.”