STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Tommy Stevens walked off the field at Beaver Stadium with fans screaming his name. Penn State’s versatile backup quarterback didn’t take the field for the spring game, but that, of course, didn’t matter.
The fact that Stevens was here on Saturday and will still be here come fall camp was reason enough for some fans to squeal with excitement while he flashed a smile and a quick wave on his way through the tunnel.
“Ultimately, I think he made the best decision,” Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne said Saturday.
What Stevens’ role looks like out of the “Lion” package will be a discussion for the summer and fall. The typical vanilla spring game was, of course, that and with Stevens shelved physically for all of spring ball that, too, took a back-burner to the fact that he elected to stay in Happy Valley next season as Trace McSorley’s backup and as the X-factor for the offense.
Perhaps that was the biggest storyline for the Nittany Lions this spring as the pressing question was resolved early on. It put to rest speculation and concerns about what the offense would look like with or without No. 2. Count Rahne among those who, like coach James Franklin, met with Stevens and his family this offseason to try to lay out a plan for the quarterback and help him weigh his options.
“I recruited him, so I just wanted to make sure he was at the best place for him and I told him that,” Rahne said after the spring game. “You look at [Texas Tech coach] Kliff Kingsbury and some of those guys he gets a lot of credit for [such as] Baker Mayfield, and he leaves and has success and he still gets credit for that, right? For me, I just wanted him at the best possible place and I just happened to believe that was at Penn State. I told him from the very beginning that I’d be honest with him and his family and his coaches and I think I was. I told him the good, the bad. … Ultimately, I think he made the best decision.”
Stevens said earlier this spring he anticipates having an increased role in the offense this season, but the specifics of that likely won’t come to fruition until he jogs out onto the field for a game and maybe throws a pass, catches one or takes off with it. Rahne, in his first season as the full-time offensive coordinator, said, in general, he reaffirmed to himself this spring that he doesn’t need to try to get “too cute” with his play calls.
If something works, there’s no need to avoid running it again, Rahne said. In the Fiesta Bowl, the Nittany Lions ran many of the same plays multiple times. While the Washington defense and the game plan for the Huskies worked, Stevens took a season-high 10 snaps out of the two-quarterback package that game, according to 247Sports. It could’ve been coincidence, Rahne electing to get Stevens mostly involved early to give Washington more to think about, or perhaps a sign of things to come.
Either way, Stevens’ spring was largely marked by things the rest of us won’t know about and won’t see until he runs out of the tunnel in September, likely to the same cheers from the home crowd that he’s heard many times before.
“He did a great job mentally,” Rahne said. “He was very in tune in every meeting and asking a lot of questions in the meetings. He was very succinct and exact in his answers. I thought he had an excellent spring mentally. He and I talked about it and he even said he thought it was his best spring mentally, and I agree with him completely.”