QB Stevens leaving the Nittany Lions
Tommy Stevens will transfer from Penn State, according to comments from his father Thursday, leaving Sean Clifford as the Nittany Lions’ projected starting quarterback for this season and perhaps as many as three years.
One day after news broke that Stevens had entered the transfer portal, his father, Tom, confirmed that the fifth-year senior will be leaving PSU.
“Honestly, I don’t think that he’ll be welcome back at this point if he wanted to come back,” Tom Stevens told the Centre Daily Times newspaper. “He’s certainly leaving Penn State.”
The elder Stevens also told The Athletic that the decision came down to Penn State not committing to naming his son the starting quarterback for this fall.
“We don’t feel like the job was given to anybody,” he told the website. “We couldn’t wait for that process to go on until August when this is Tommy’s last shot.”
Stevens waited his turn as the primary backup to Trace McSorley the past three years and had to figure he would be the starter this fall. But he’s been dealing with a foot/lower leg injury, had surgery in December and was limited in spring drills, so Penn State coach James Franklin would not commit to naming him the starter.
The Stevens family felt they couldn’t wait any longer for assurances that Tommy will play this season, his final year of eligibility.
Tom Stevens also hinted at frustration that had built up.
“There’s been some things done and said over the past few years that rubbed us the wrong way, and we felt we had to make a decision now,” Tommy’s father told the York Daily Record newspaper.
“There’s been some things going on that everybody doesn’t know about.”
Stevens and Clifford were expected to battle for the job this summer and fall, but now Clifford has a stronghold on the position. Redshirt freshman Will Levis is in line to be the backup.
A sophomore from Cincinnati, Clifford redshirted in 2017 and served as McSorley’s backup for much of last season because Stevens was injured. Clifford, who’s 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, is a prototypical passer with a strong arm.
Last season, Clifford appeared in four games, including the Citrus Bowl against Kentucky when McSorley was briefly hurt. Clifford completed 5 of 7 passes for 195 yards for the season, highlighted by a school-record 95-yard touchdown pass to Daniel George in the closing minutes against Kent State.
One question about Clifford is his mobility. He’s certainly not in the same category as McSorley or Stevens when it comes to running the ball, and that aspect has been a key part of the Penn State offense the past few years.
Clifford, though, did show good footwork and mobility in the Blue-White Game on Saturday, albeit against a defense that was not allowed to hit the quarterback.
“Clifford’s probably a better athlete than people think he is, so he’s able to get out of the pocket and make some plays with his feet,” offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne said Saturday.
The biggest upside with Clifford — and something the Penn State coaches had to be considering with the quarterback competition — is that he has three years of eligibility left, while Stevens has just one.
If Stevens were to start this year, the offense potentially would have to adjust in big ways because he likes to run so much. That could open him up to injuries, and we saw what happened to the offense last year when McSorley suffered a knee injury and his efficiency dropped off substantially.
By starting Clifford, the Lions not only have a pass-first quarterback, they have a quarterback who can grow and develop with the offense potentially for three seasons.
“I love passing the ball. That’s why I play quarterback,” Clifford said last week.
He also pointed out, “I’m not trying to be Mike Vick out here. That’s not who I am. I’m Sean Clifford, I know that. But I’m definitely trying to add another dynamic of the game (running some) for me so that I can press defenses in different ways.”