STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State has a starting quarterback, one that was arguably the best in the Big Ten at the end of the 2016 season — and could be one of the best in the nation in 2017.
A year ago, that quarterback — redshirt junior Trace McSorley — was locked in a battle to replace NFL draft pick Christian Hackenberg. Because McSorley soared to such great heights in 2016, it might be easy to forget about the other guy.
“The other guy” reminded everyone Saturday that he’s pretty good, too. Tommy Stevens earned offensive MVP honors in the 2017 Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium.
“What [everyone else] is starting to see more of, we’ve been seeing this in practice,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I told [the media] last year that was a quarterback battle. Trace had a hell of a season. I get it, everybody should be excited about Trace.
“I think we’ve got two quarterbacks that we can win with. You have to have that.”
Stevens earned praise from Franklin leading into the spring game as one of the players who impressed the most during practices leading up to Saturday. He played well in limited duty last season, mostly just replacing McSorley when the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt.
It was easy to see Saturday why Franklin and Stevens’ teammates have developed a sincere level of confidence in him.
“I think I did a good job,” Stevens said. “I need to watch the film to critique myself. I’m usually pretty hard on myself. I feel improved. I feel like I had a much better spring than the past two.
“In this situation now, I don’t really feel pressed or nervous. I feel prepared every day when I come to work, essentially. I come to work every day, be prepared and play as hard as I can. That usually turns out well.”
Stevens possesses a strong arm, and connected on a 50-yard pass to DeAndre Thompkins.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) April 22, 2017
He also threw touchdown passes on three different routes — a short swing pass to Andre Robinson, a long flag pattern to Brandon Polk, and one to Juwan Johnson on a slant to the middle of the field in the final seconds.
— Roar Lions Roar (@RLRblog) April 22, 2017
Stevens is similar to McSorley as an athlete. Both are adept runners and can escape oncoming pass rushers.
Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry did not hold back when asked about the team’s backup quarterback, saying he could start for most college teams.
PSU defensive coordinator Brent Pry: "Tommy Stevens, to me, 75 percent of the programs out there, he's a starter."
— Cory Giger (@CoryGiger) April 22, 2017
At this program, he is not. McSorley set single-season Penn State records for passing yards, total yards and passing touchdowns last year. He led several second-half comebacks, cementing his place as the leader of a Big Ten championship-winning team.
That’s not to say Stevens won’t get his chance. McSorley’s teammates love his linebacker-esque mentality, but that also adds risk to his health. Also, just playing quarterback at this level can lead to injuries.
The coaches and players have said that they trust Stevens and expect him to maintain the same standard McSorley has set should he be called upon. He gave 71,000 people a glimpse of why on Saturday.
“As you can imagine, it is tough at times,” Stevens said of being the backup. “But, at the same time, I try not to make this about me. I don’t want it to be about me. I just want to come in and do my job, do whatever I can to help us win.”