Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

James Franklin says Tommy Stevens to open spring as QB 1 at Penn State, but competition is on

3 Comments

With Trace McSorley moving on from the Nittany Lions after starting the past three seasons, Penn State head coach James Franklin isn’t quite ready to anoint the next starting quarterback. He did, however, say Tommy Stevens will begin the spring at the top of the depth chart.

“Obviously we’re not in a situation to name a starter really at any position,” Franklin said on Wednesday when addressing the media on signing day, according to Lions 247. “But, yeah, when we start out, you know, you’ve got to put them in order. So Tommy will be No. 1 and [Sean Clifford] will be No. 2 and [Will Levis] will be No. 3 and so forth down the line.”

We probably shouldn’t read too much into this statement, as Franklin is committed to competition at a number of positions beginning this spring. A final decision may not even be made at the end of the spring if the level of play between Stevens and Clifford (and Levis) is fairly even. But somebody has to take the first reps in the spring, and that will fall on Stevens.

This hardly a shocking development in Happy Valley. Stevens had been the primary backup to McSorley each of the past two seasons and he had been projected to be the most likely successor at the position once McSorley graduated. Stevens underwent offseason surgery that left him unavailable for Penn State’s bowl game. As Franklin suggested in December, the timing of the surgery for Stevens was discussed, and it is expected Stevens will be available to participate in spring practices.

Stevens appeared in seven games for Penn State last season, in which he completed eight of 11 pass attempts for 110 yards and a touchdown with an interception. Stevens also carried the football 28 times for 118 yards and two touchdowns and he caught two passes for a total of two yards as he was sparingly used in other positions on the field with McSorley.

Clifford may have the best shot to push Stevens for playing time. The former four-star recruit appeared in four games last season for the Nittany Lions, sometimes entering a game before Stevens was given a chance to play. By appearing in just four games, Clifford can preserve his redshirt year and still has four years of eligibility to use. Clifford could likely be the successor to Stevens if he doesn’t impress enough in the spring to make a case for the starting job right now.

CFT Previews: VRBO Citrus Bowl

Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
2 Comments

WHO: No. 12 Penn State (9-3) vs. No. 14 Kentucky (9-3)
WHAT: The 73rd VRBO Citrus Bowl
WHEN: 1:00 p.m. ET on ABC
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
THE SKINNY: Kentucky is going for the first 10-win season in school history in over three decades. Penn State is looking for a third-straight double-digit win season for the first time since joining the Big Ten. Something will have to give as both Kentucky and Penn State see the final games played by some influential playmaker in a college uniform.

Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen has collected a good amount of hardware this past awards season as he cements his legacy as one of the top defensive players to ever wear a Kentucky uniform. Playing one final game rather than sit out to focus on the NFL Draft is a testament to how much Allen wants to help the Wildcats accomplish a rare feat of a 10-win season before he moves on to the next level. He will be tasked to making sure Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley doesn’t get opportunities to make big plays with his arm or his legs. McSorley has been banged up this season but the time off before the bowl game may have helped get him closer to being the player Penn State needs him to be. With backup quarterback Tommy Stevens not available due to offseason surgery, it will be McSorley or bust for the Nittany Lions.

The running back matchup with Kentucky’s Benny Snell and Penn State’s Miles Sanders should be fairly even and just as much of a factor in the outcome of this game. Neither defense has a way of shutting everything down against the run so Snell and Sanders could have some opportunities to do some damage. But in the end, Penn State may have the edge of their receivers and tight ends keep their hands on the football.

THE LINE: Penn State -7.0
THE PREDICTION: Penn State 34, Kentucky 26

No. 12 Penn State and Trace McSorley end season on winning note and block Maryland from bowl berth

Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
3 Comments

No. 12 Penn State (9-3, 6-3) ended their regular season on a very positive note, one the Nittany Lions hope will be enough to receive an invite back to a New Years Six bowl game in a couple of weeks. Penn State’s 38-3 win against Maryland (5-7, 3-6 Big Ten) saw the senior class go out in winning fashion and brought an official close to the year for the Terrapins. Maryland needed a win in order to become eligible for a postseason bowl berth this year.

Playing in his final home game for Penn State, senior quarterback Trace McSorley made the most of it by becoming the school’s all-time leader in completions and adding his 21st career game with a passing and rushing touchdown in the same game. Mcsorley passed the previous school record for most all-time completions set by Christian Hackenberg in the first half and continued to rack up completions to go over 700 for his career. Mcsorley rushed for two touchdowns in the first half and threw his first and only touchdown pass of the game in the fourth quarter to tight end Pat Freiermuth. McSorley finished the day with 230 passing yards without an interception and 64 rushing yards with three total touchdowns before Tommy Stevens entered the game to relieve the Penn State starter.

Maryland’s offense appeared to have run out of steam after last week’s game at home against Ohio State. Anthony McFarland was limited to just 12 yards on six carries a week after a career day. Maryland’s entire running game was held down well by Penn State. The Terps had just 70 rushing yards in the game. Quarterback Tyrell Pigrome picked up just 13 rushing yards and was without a touchdown in the game. Penn State doubled the total offensive production of Maryland, 560-255 as well. It just appeared as though Maryland was out of gas on the road at the end of an emotionally exhausting season, and Penn State playing at home was a bad matchup for that to be the case.

Penn State will now sit and wait to see just what their bowl outlook may look like. Penn State began the week ranked just high enough to be eligible for consideration for an at-large bid to a New Years Six bowl game, but a handful of results this week could pose a threat to the possibility Penn State could play in a New Years Six bowl game (Washington State and Michigan losing), although a clearer picture should be painted on Tuesday night when the next College Football Playoff selection committee rankings are released. Penn State should still be in a spot for consideration, but it is a bit more clouded at the moment. If Penn State misses out on a New Years Six bowl game, the Nittany Lions could still be playing on January 1 with a spot in the Citrus Bowl a strong possibility if passed over for an at-large invitation. Ohio State being selected for the College Football Playoff could help Penn State’s case as Michigan would head to the Rose Bowl in the Big Ten’s tied-in spot.

While Penn State awaits its bowl fate, Maryland will continue to figure out just what happens next with the program. Matt Canada remains the interim coach as the program will now be able to focus on a coaching search to name a new permanent head coach. Despite the loss to Penn State, Canada should be among the list of candidates Maryland interviews for the job unless the school decided to wipe the slate completely clean of the DJ Durkin era and start over. Maryland’s 2019 season will begin on August 31, 2019 with a home game against Howard, followed by a home date against Syracuse.

No. 5 Michigan’s revenge tour adds No. 14 Penn State to the list

Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images
11 Comments

The revenge tour for No. 5 Michigan (8-1, 6-0 Big Ten) had quite the second half performance against No. 14 Penn State (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) on Saturday. The Wolverines dominated the hapless Nittany Lions 42-7 in a loud statement game in the latest game on Michigan’s revenge tour this season. Now with wins nailed down against three of the four teams to beat them last year (Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State), the eyes in Ann Arbor are already looking forward to the regular season finale against Ohio State for the grand finale.

Michigan’s defense, led by revenge tour frontman linebacker Chase Winovich set the tone in the first half by allowing just one third-down conversion to the Nittany Lions before halftime. Winovich sacked Trace McSorley and recovered a fumble in the first half as Michigan took a 14-0 lead into halftime with a Shea Patterson touchdown run and a pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones. Michigan continued to wear down Penn State on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the field, with the offense staying on the field for 11 minutes in the third quarter alone and doubling the lead heading to the fourth quarter.

Michigan delivered what felt like the knockout blow at the end of the third quarter when Patterson tossed a touchdown pass to Zach Gentry at the end of a 90-yard drive. Penn State’s defense appeared to be gassed on the drive after spending over 11 minutes on the field in the third quarter. But just moments later, that lopsided 21-0 lead became 28-0 when Tommy Stevens came in to replace McSorley at quarterback and Stevens tossed a pick-six to Brandon Watson.

With memories of Penn State running up the score on them a year ago in Happy Valley, Michigan continued to pour it on in the fourth quarter with more big plays on the ground. Karan Higdon (132 rushing yards) and Chris Evans (57 rushing yards) each scored a short touchdown run to pad the lead as Michigan continued to look like the class of the Big Ten. A late touchdown run by Stevens allowed Penn State to avoid being shutout for the first time since 2001, against Michigan.

The home team in this series has won by a lopsided score in each of the last three meetings, and the winning team has scored at least 42 points in each.

Michigan continues to build a steady place atop the Big Ten East standings. Now at 6-0 in Big Ten play, Michigan owns a one-game lead over Ohio State and a two-game lead over Michigan State with a head-to-head tiebreaker on the Spartans already under their belt. Penn State falls to 3-3 in Big Ten play and is now eliminated from contention for the Big Ten championship game with head-to-head losses to all three teams in front of them (Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State). With just Rutgers and Indiana left to play before ending the year on the road against Ohio State, it sure looks as though the Big Ten East could be decided in the regular season finale in Columbus, but Ohio State has been cracking and the possibility exists Michigan could clinch the East division before having to face Ohio State.

Michigan will be on the road against Rutgers next week. Penn State will look to rebound next week at home against Wisconsin. It will be the toughest game remaining for Penn State.

No. 17 Penn State finds a way to win a close one at home by holding off No. 18 Iowa

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
2 Comments

No. 17 Penn State (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) lost their last two games at home despite having a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. As Penn State took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter against No. 18 Iowa (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) in Beaver Stadium on Saturday, the Nittany Lions once again had to avoid a fourth-quarter collapse to get a win. Perhaps the third time was the charm for Penn State.

Penn State held on for a 30-24 win, holding Iowa off the scoreboard on their final two possessions of the game, including the last possession of the game as the clock expired.

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley left the game for a couple of possessions in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury, but he returned in the second quarter for a quick series and was back for the remainder of the game after halftime. A 51-yard touchdown run by McSorley early in the third quarter let everyone know he was feeling just fine.

Tommy Stevens filled in for McSorley in his absence and scored a game-tying touchdown for the Nittany Lions in a messy first half immediately following a big interception return by John Reid.

It was quite a messy first half of football too. Iowa scored 17 points in the most Iowa way imaginable; two safeties as Penn State sailed snaps over the punter’s head, two field goals, and a touchdown thrown by a punter to a defensive lineman on a fake field goal. Iowa also had some luck with fumbles with three forced fumbles by Penn State all recovered by the Hawkeyes. Penn State’s defense did a good job of not letting Iowa do much on offense, but the Hawkeyes finally got tight end Noah Fant involved in the fourth quarter after never finding a way to get him open before that.

As Fant settled in and Nate Stanley got a bit more comfortable, Iowa applied pressure on Penn State with a chance to grab the lead. But confusion at the line of scrimmage with Stanley and Fant led to an interception just outside the goal line with Iowa trailing by six. Penn State was unable to wrap up the game even though Iowa ran out of timeouts on the ensuing possession, but the Hawkeyes had one more chance. It appeared Iowa could have moved into Penn State territory in the final minute, but a catch on the field was overturned by video review.

Penn State will be on the road next week against Michigan. The Wolverines have not lost since their season-opening loss at Notre Dame and Michigan is the only unbeaten team left within Big Ten play, putting them in first place in the Big Ten East. The home team has won in blowout fashion each of the last two years in this series, and Penn State will have a lot to clean up if they are going to avoid allowing that trend to continue.

Iowa falls into a three-way tie for second place in the Big Ten West with Wisconsin and Purdue. All three lost on Saturday, and Northwestern now sits alone atop the Big Ten West Division after their home win against the Badgers. But Iowa still has the opportunity to seize some control of the division’s fate with their next two games. Iowa visits Purdue next week and then hosts Northwestern. If Iowa can win each of those two games and avoid a head-to-head tie with Wisconsin at the end of the season, they will play for the Big Ten championship. In short, the next few weeks in the Big Ten West should be very interesting.