COLLEGE PARK, Md. — This whole quarterback thing for Tommy Stevens has only been in the works for the past five years.
“Growing up, playing different positions, I didn’t play quarterback until really my junior year of high school,” the Penn State signal-caller said. “I played running back. I played tight end. I played a little receiver. Quite a lot of different positions. And not just on offense. I played outside linebacker, I played safety. One year I actually played corner.”
The Nittany Lions are reaping the rewards now.
Stevens and starter Trace McSorley both thrashed Maryland in one of the Lions’ most dominant performances ever in a Big Ten game, a 66-3 mauling of the Terrapins on Saturday that gave them their second straight 10-2 regular season.
Second-teamer Stevens got things started when he took a handoff from McSorley on the opening drive, faked a reverse to Saquon Barkley and ran it in from 21 yards out off of right tackle.
McSorley finished 22-for-33 passing for 237 yards and two touchdowns with another 36 yards and a score on the ground. When he and most of the starters came out in the third quarter of the blowout, Stevens came in and found the end zone three more times — rushing for a game-high 113 yards on just 12 carries and throwing an 11-yard score to tight end Tom Pancoast.
“We’ve got a pretty good quarterback in Trace McSorley,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “We got a damn good quarterback as well in our backup Tommy Stevens.”
McSorley became just the second player in Big Ten history to record 25 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in a season, as well as becoming the first player in Penn State history to top 3,000 yards passing in multiple seasons.
Stevens, meanwhile, continued to flash his versatility, continuing his evolution since high school.
“My freshman year of high school, I was 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, probably,” Stevens said. “It was funny because there was a picture me and my friends would take every year the first day of school. And you could actually see me growing and growing.”
And growing into a valuable weapon at quarterback for the No. 10 Lions (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten).
“I enjoy having an impact on the game,” Stevens said. “I enjoy helping my teammates out. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy the success. I just try and work as hard as I can each week and try to prepare for these opportunities.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s about the team and the game. So however I can help — however that is or whenever that is — I’m gonna do it as hard as I can.”
Stevens will have a decision to make down the line. The redshirt sophomore is on track to graduate after the spring semester. And if McSorley returns for a fifth and final season, Stevens would have the option of playing immediately at another FBS program as a graduate transfer. He has given no indication of that being his plan, however.
All of that will come later. On Saturday, he had plenty of teammates glowing about him.
“It’s his work ethic and how he comes in every single day,” McSorley said. “It’s his sacrifice to do anything for the team and make the team better. When he gets in there, he’s all juiced up. He’s excited. Guys see him having fun, and it gets everyone else going.”
Maryland had no answer for either quarterback. They combined for four rushing scores while McSorley hit Mike Gesicki on two more touchdowns, increasing his school record by a tight end to nine on the season.
The Terps (4-8, 2-7) lost seven of their last eight games in large part because of injuries to their own top two quarterbacks in the first two weeks of the season. Maryland had opened the season with a 51-41 win over Texas in Austin.
“That Texas game feels like it was about eight years ago right now,” Maryland coach D.J. Durkin sighed afterward.
Out of bowl contention and with nothing to lose, Durkin understandably went for it on fourth down three times against the Lions, but the Terps were stuffed all three times.
“The fourth down stops were huge,” Franklin said. “I thought like we matched up pretty well with Maryland on offense and defense up front. But I don’t know if I’ve ever seen three fourth-down stops like that in short-yardage situations.”
As it was, Maryland settled for just a 42-yard field goal while trailing 52-0 to prevent the Lions from pitching their third shutout of the season.
For Maryland native Marcus Allen, there was no better way to finish out his final regular season game in a Penn State uniform.
“No, this is perfect,” the senior safety said. “This is the perfect win. To do it with my brothers, my teammates, coaching staff — it’s a great win to have. Especially at home (for me), to win like this.”