Stevens out after having surgery
While it may not impact Penn State much in the upcoming Citrus Bowl against Kentucky, some news that came out of Orlando on Wednesday could have a big impact on the Nittany Lions moving forward.
Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens recently underwent surgery of an undisclosed nature, did not travel with the team to Florida and won’t play in the contest.
Coach James Franklin provided that information during an introductory press conference in Orlando when asked if he expects everyone to be able to play in Tuesday’s game.
“We’ll have one guy that won’t be here, since you asked, is Tommy Stevens,” Franklin said. “Tommy had an injury about the midpoint of the season that you guys weren’t aware of.
“We had a lot of discussions about when’s the right time to have the surgery, but Tommy’s family and the staff decided the best time to have the surgery would be once his academics finished up and he got through the season. He was able to do that, and now this will allow him, hopefully, to be full-go for spring ball.”
One key word there is “hopefully,” making it at least a possibility that Stevens, the projected starting quarterback next year, may not be fully recovered for spring ball.
That wouldn’t be a problem for a lot of veteran players getting ready for their senior season, but Stevens has never gotten many first-team reps while backing up starter Trace McSorley the past three seasons. He also missed time last spring with a foot injury.
Stevens, therefore, can use as much practice as he can get for next season, and it could be put on hold until the summer if he isn’t ready for the spring.
Stevens missed the first four games this season while still recovering from his foot injury, but the severity of it was never known since Franklin and the players do not discuss injuries. Stevens was listed as the starting “lion” position on offense, but he played sporadically and only threw 11 passes, completing eight for 110 yards.
Stevens is presumed to be the heir apparent to McSorley next season since he’s been the primary backup quarterback for three years. Still, redshirt freshman Sean Clifford served as second string behind McSorley early this season and looked good throwing the ball in mop-up duty, completing all five of his passes for 195 yards and two TDs, including a 95-yarder against Kent State.
Clifford did not play in the final eight games of the regular season, but he would be called upon if something happens to McSorley in the Citrus Bowl.
SUBHD: Florida arrival
The Penn State team arrived in Orlando on Wednesday, set for a week of practice and fun heading into the Citrus Bowl. The coaches already have finished scripting out the game plan against Kentucky and will begin usual game week preparation today.
“We’ll shorten the practices the rest of the week just a little bit, because we’re basically going six straight days,” said Franklin, who wanted to practice Wednesday but couldn’t work it out because of post-Christmas travel for the squad.
SUBHD: Business or pleasure?
Bowl trips are supposed to be fun for the players, coaches and their families, but there’s also the business at hand of preparing for a tough game. Franklin was asked Wednesday how he handles the business elements with the fun parts.
“It’s not strictly just a business trip. It needs to be a balance of both,” the coach said. “We talk all the time about having a mature football team, and I want them to enjoy this. This is a great experience, and they have to be able to balance both.
“When it’s time to enjoy themselves and have fun, go do that. When it’s time to be in meetings and be at practice, we have to be able to do those things, as well. … I want them to enjoy Orlando. I want them to enjoy the bowl experience. I want to limit distractions, and then when it’s time to work, it’s time to work.”
SUBHD: Foe is friend
One thing Franklin and the other PSU coaches have been asked about several times is whether Kentucky’s game against Mississippi State this season can provide any sort of edge for Penn State.
Former Lion offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is now head coach at Mississippi State, and former PSU defensive coordinator Bob Shoop holds that same position there.
Kentucky clobbered MSU back in September, 28-7, rushing for 229 yards.
“Really valuable film,” Franklin said of scouting that game. “What you’re always trying to do is break down and study similar-like opponents. People that run a similar defensive scheme as you, people that run a similar offensive scheme.
“Obviously, Mississippi State, it’s unusual because both sides are similar. Their defense and their offense have a lot of similarities (to ours). That film was very valuable for us. We spent a lot of time studying that.”
Franklin then was asked if he talks much with Moorhead or Shoop.
“I talk to (Joe Moorhead) fairly often, usually text messages, things like that,” Franklin said. “Not a whole lot specific to the game, a little bit, but as you can imagine, they’re getting ready for their game.
“Neither one of us had a lot of time to spend with each other to talk about anything other than Christmas with our families or the bowl games we’re trying to get prepared for. But yes, there was definitely value in the film.”