Stevens makes most of chance
UNIVERSITY PARK — Noticeably absent during Penn State’s two losses against Ohio State and Michigan State was backup quarterback Tommy Stevens from the backfield alongside Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley.
Leading up to those games, Stevens had accumulated 162 passing yards and 46 rushing yards and scored a touchdown via both methods. Stevens frequented the offense in the red zone and was what tight end Mike Gesicki calls an “All-American decoy.”
The Indianapolis native played a few snaps last week against Rutgers, and in the second quarter in a 56-44 win over Nebraska on Saturday, the Tommy Stevens package returned to a Nittany Lion offense that dismantled the Cornhuskers.
“I just really enjoy being a part of the game plan,” Stevens said. “I enjoy helping out. It’s just a credit to all of the guys around me that I am able to be successful.”
After making a 9-yard reception down to Nebraska’s 8-yard line in the second quarter, Stevens again lined up in the backfield with McSorley.
This time Stevens served as the decoy as the play call worked perfectly with McSorley keeping the ball to himself on the option and running it in for a touchdown to make the score 20-10 in Penn State’s favor before a Tyler Davis extra point.
In the fourth quarter, Stevens again caught a McSorley pass that looked like the sophomore quarterback took to the house for a 30-yard touchdown but was called out of bounds at Nebraska’s 17. Mike Gesicki reeled in a touchdown reception on the next play.
With the game in hand in the fourth quarter, Stevens came in for relief of McSorley. On his first drive as the playcaller Stevens had three runs for 30 yards and capped off the drive with 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nick Bowers, the first score of Bowers’ career.
Stevens completed the game 2-of-3 passing for 21 yards and with five carries for 31 yards.
“This is just part of the process,” Stevens said. “I know that I am here for a reason. I could play at other places, but I am happy here. I have friends here and a great coaching staff. I’m happy to be here and just be a part of something bigger.”
Juwan Johnson’s career day
Sophomore wide receiver Juwan Johnson became a familiar name this year at Iowa with his walk-off, game-winning touchdown reception to defeat the Hawkeyes back in September.
Against Northwestern Johnson made a career-high six receptions, and last week he made five catches for 78 yards against Rutgers.
“The beginning of the season I was really nervous,” Johnson said. “Nerves have started to go away slightly throughout the season. Now I feel like I have a lot of confidence going into the game knowing that I can do these things.”
A first quarter 43-yard reception against Nebraska was a sign of the day ahead for Johnson.
Johnson finished the game with five receptions for 105 yards, his first ever 100-yard receiving performance. His night was highlighted when he made a spectacular one-handed, sideline grab in the third quarter.
“He’s just going to continue to get better,” James Franklin said. “You’re really starting to see him play with his size right now. His catch radius is unbelievable. He’s a guy you can depend on. He’s a great teammate. I couldn’t be more excited about Juwan and his future.”
Tim Shaw an honorary captain
Joining Penn State captains Jason Cabinda, Trace McSorley, DaeSean Hamilton and Nick Scott for the coin toss as honorary captain was former Nittany Lion Tim Shaw.
Shaw played linebacker for Penn State from 2002-2006 alongside the likes of Nittany Lion greats Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor. Shaw was was a fifth-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers and played six seasons in the NFL for the Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans before going on to earn an MBA at George Washington University.
In 2014 Shaw announced in a video of himself participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge that he has ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
“Tim’s been very involved in our program,” Franklin said. “Tim is one of the more amazing individuals that I have ever been around. The guy has got a smile from ear to ear. The stadium erupts for him. He’s a special guy, and we can all learn a lot from Tim Shaw and how he’s handled unbelievable challenges. He’s done it with grace. He’s done it with dignity.”
Since his diagnosis Shaw has devoted his time to raising awareness about ALS and the fight to find a cure while also writing a book and being a motivational speaker.
Shaw was involved with the team in this spring’s Blue-White game and this summer signed a one-day contract with the Titans to retire as a “Titan for life.”
In the fourth quarter senior safety Troy Apke was disqualified from the game for targeting on a hit he delivered to Nebraska wide receiver Stanley Morgan. Apke will be suspended for the first half of next week’s game at Maryland.
Mahon and Nelson return to line
Fifth year senior offensive linemen Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon also had memorable Senior Days. After battling injuries throughout their careers that had forced Mahon to miss time and Nelson to miss the final eight games of last season and limited his action to just three appearances this season, the two friends were able to finally get back on the field together one last time in Beaver Stadium.
“To play next to Andrew Nelson, one of my best friends, he’s really family at this point, was the best way to cap off my career here,” Mahon said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him and everything he has done for this team and me as a person.”
Both players also helped walk Tim Shaw out for the pregame coin toss ceremony.
“For both of us (our careers) didn’t go as we had planned,” Mahon said. “That’s really a testament to life, and it really taught us that not everything is going to go your way or how you planned. Everything happens for a reason. Learn from it and become a better man. We always talked when we were recruited that we would play next to each other, so to cap it off as fifth year seniors here and do that was really special.”
News and notes
Kevin Givens (Altoona) started for the third consecutive game on the defensive line and recorded a sack … Zach Simpson (Hollidaysburg) saw time with the second-team offense in the second half.
(Compiled by Thomas Schlarp)