Tommy Stevens and Trace McSorley both redshirted their freshman seasons at Penn State. McSorley played six games in his redshirt freshman season in 2015. Stevens did the same in 2016. McSorley beat out Stevens in 2016 for the starting spot, which head coach James Franklin stated was a much closer battle than people realize. Stevens went on to become not only the backup quarterback but also the “Lion”. McSorley broke many Penn State records. Finally, Stevens is still around and McSorley is getting ready for the NFL draft. For the first time since 2016, there could be a quarterback battle at Penn State.
Could there be a quarterback battle at Penn State?
Going into spring practice Franklin stated that Stevens is the starting quarterback, but he is still battling the injury that kept him out of the bowl game a few months ago. Due to the injury that Stevens played through for the better part of the 2018 season, fans got several looks at Sean Clifford. Clifford was so popular that many Nittany Lion fans took to the internet for a “Sean Clifford for Heisman” campaign. So, with an injury and several young guys looking to step up, could there be a quarterback battle at Penn State?
Stevens has been QB2 for three seasons; 2016, 2017, and 2018. By all accounts, it is his time to step into the QB1 role. In Franklin’s most recent press conference he stated that “Tommy played through a fairly significant injury all last year, which affected him.” Further, Stevens will be able to participate in the spring, but that Franklin does not know if the veteran quarterback will be “full go.” Franklin emphasized that the coaching staff is working closely with not only the Penn State football medical staff, but Stevens’ doctor as well.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Stevens entering the 2016 season. So much so that throughout the season when McSorley would make a mistake fans would call for Stevens. He played in six games that season, totaling 198 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, and only three attempted passes. He started to make an impact not only at quarterback but in many different positions on the offense, earning the Lion position.
In his sophomore season in 2017, Stevens really shined. When number two stepped on the field fans would yell, “It’s Tommy time!” Even though he was rarely lining up as the only quarterback, he created a wrinkle for opposing defenses and became another threat to account for. He played in eight games that season, rushed for four touchdowns, caught two more, and passed for three. Last season the Lion was plagued with injury. He still played in six games, and accounted for three touchdowns, but also threw his first interception. So, will Stevens branch beyond the Lion position in 2019, or will one of the young guys pass him by?
With the injury to Stevens in 2018, fans got acquainted with Clifford. In his redshirt freshman season Clifford played in four games, including the bowl game, went 5-for-7 for 195 passing yards and threw for two touchdowns. Clifford showed flashes of what he can do in those first three games. Enough so that fans wanted Clifford nominated for the Heisman. The fourth, however, when he entered the bowl game against Kentucky for an injured McSorley, Clifford did not complete a single pass.
He has a strong arm and good pocket presence, but his mobility was barely utilized in 2018. He had only five rushing attempts, for negative three yards. Last spring though McSorley stated that the young quarterback is “…hardworking, he’s diligent and he wants to be successful so bad that it drives everyone else to be successful and do everything they can around him.” Further, he is a competitor and always wants to put his team in a position to win the game. Look for Clifford to turn a lot of heads in spring practice with Stevens limited.
The other QBs
If there is a quarterback battle at Penn State this spring it will arguably be between Stevens and Clifford, but there are other young playmakers on the roster as well. Will Levis should not be forgotten entering spring practice. In his spring press conference, Franklin praised Levis, stating that he is very talented and needs to step up into a new role as well. Levis redshirted the 2018 season giving him four more years of eligibility.
In addition to Levis, there are two freshman early enrollees Michael Johnson Jr. and Taquan Roberson. Johnson Jr. is the number two recruit out of Oregon and is a dual-threat quarterback. Roberson is more likely to get McSorley comparisons, standing 5-ft-11-inches he is gritty and slightly undersized for normal societal standards. Both will likely make big strides throughout the spring and one might even take advantage of the new four-game redshirt rule and see playing time in 2019.
For the first time since 2016, there could be a quarterback battle at Penn State. It is likely that Stevens will remain the starter throughout spring and into the 2019 season, but Clifford may not be too far behind.
Things to look for: how Stevens’ injury progresses through spring practice, Clifford’s confidence after 2018, and how the young guys stack up against the two front-runners.