Source: Derek Levarse | Times Leader
STATE COLLEGE — Because of his height — 6-foot-even — plenty of schools recruited Trace McSorley as a safety.
That didn’t really happen to fellow quarterback Tommy Stevens, namely because he checks in at a more prototypical 6-4.
But Penn State’s defensive coordinator would take him in a heartbeat.
“First of all, I’d like to have Tommy on defense,” Brent Pry said with a grin. “I think he could help us.”
More than that, Pry and the Nittany Lions are just happy Stevens is still at Penn State and not off looking for a starting job at another school.
Especially not after the rising redshirt sophomore starred in Saturday’s Blue-White Game by going 17 of 24 for 216 yards and three touchdowns. The Blue squad blanked the White 26-0 in the annual scrimmage.
Over the winter, it was a significant victory for Penn State to convince both tight end Mike Gesicki and safety Marcus Allen to hold off on the NFL and return for their senior seasons.
But just as important was keeping Stevens in the fold. With McSorley exploding onto the national radar and having two more years of eligibility left, it would have been no surprise if Stevens looked to transfer, as so many second-team quarterbacks do across the country.
“I’m a big Tommy Stevens fan,” Pry said. “Him and Trace both — those dual-threat guys — it’s one thing when they can run and spin the ball. But to have the type of mentality that those two guys have? Tommy’s just so tough. He’s just a gamer. I love that about him.
“Seventy-five percent of the programs out there, he’s a starter. And a winner.”
But even with that in mind, Stevens said he would be back as early as the hour after the Big Ten championship game, a night McSorley earned MVP honors for his 384 yards and four touchdowns.
McSorley took a pounding that night, and there were a few moments where it looked like Stevens might need to take over.
“I’m sure you can imagine that it’s tough at times,” Stevens said of waiting for his turn. “But I try not to make this about me. I just want to do my job and help this team win.”
As the Lions look to defend their Big Ten title and take another run at the College Football Playoff this fall, they feel like they can reach those goals with Stevens as well as McSorley.
“We’ve been seeing this in practice,” Lions coach James Franklin said of Stevens, whom he named as one of his scrimmage standouts along with linebacker Cam Brown and safety Ayron Monroe. “Trace had a hell of a season (in 2016) … but we’ve got two quarterbacks you can win with, and I think you have to have that.”
On Saturday, the Blue squad — comprised mostly of first-teamers, minus some notable names like Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki — couldn’t get into rhythm. The starters couldn’t find the end zone and managed just two field goals as McSorley played the first half, going 13 for 21 for 114 yards with an interception.
Stevens played the entire second half and tossed touchdowns to tailback Andre Robinson and wideouts Brandon Polk and Juwan Johnson.
The first score to Robinson was a checkdown to the left flat after diagnosing that his first reads weren’t open. The second touchdown had just enough air under it to allow the speedster Polk to run underneath it. And the final one allowed the 6-4 Johnson to use his frame to beat a defender in the middle of the end zone.
He also hit DeAndre Thompkins in stride for a 50-yard bomb down the right sideline that got things going.
“Collectively as an offense, during the time that I was in, it was just great execution within the scheme,” Stevens said. “Not just me, but all the guys around me doing the things that we had to do. Just taking what we have from the system and applying it to a game situation. I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Spring practice darling Johnson finished with seven catches for 81 yards and the score, but he didn’t actually finish with the team-high in receptions.
That would be redshirt sophomore Jonathan Holland, who is making his case to be Gesicki’s top backup at tight end, a spot where the Lions need to develop depth.
Holland, who was not with the team on game day at the Rose Bowl, capped off a strong spring by grabbing eight passes for 62 yards, including a tough, diving grab over the middle for a first down.
Thompkins led all players with 84 yards receiving. Mark Allen was the top rusher, picking up 63 yards on 10 carries.
Sophomore Cam Brown “was all over the field,” according to Franklin while making a team-high seven stops with one pass break-up. Safety-turned-linebacker Jarvis Miller also had seven tackles, including a sack of McSorley on a speed rush.
Monroe and redshirt freshman corner T.J. Johnson both had five tackles and an interception. Johnson also sniffed out a third-down tight end screen to Holland in the red zone to force a field goal try.
The first-team defensive ends were Torrence Brown and Shareef Miller, with Miller recording two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse