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Penn State’s Tommy Stevens not frustrated by lack of playing time

The Nittany Lions' backup quarterback accounted for more than 400 yards last season as a passer, runner and receiver but has seen the field for just four plays in 2018.

Penn State's Tommy Stevens (2), getting brought down by Ohio State's Malik Harrison (39) during the first half Sept. 29, has been on the field for only four plays this season.
Penn State's Tommy Stevens (2), getting brought down by Ohio State's Malik Harrison (39) during the first half Sept. 29, has been on the field for only four plays this season.Read moreChris Knight / AP

Penn State backup quarterback Tommy Stevens has every reason to be frustrated this season.

In 2017, with then-offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead developing the "Lion" package for him, Stevens used his unique skill set to account for a total of 408 yards rushing, passing and receiving in nine games. The highlight came in the regular-season finale at Maryland, where he rushed 12 times for 113 yards and three touchdowns and threw a TD pass in a 66-3 rout.

It's different for Stevens this year, however. After missing the first four games with what was believed to be a foot or ankle injury, he has been on the field for just four plays — all against Ohio State. Two of the plays went for minus yardage, including a 12-yard loss on a long backward pass from Trace McSorley that he couldn't field cleanly.

But Stevens, who did not play at all last weekend against Michigan State, won't use the word "frustrating" to describe his season, which enters the second half Saturday when the Nittany Lions travel to Stevens' home state of Indiana to take on the Hoosiers.

"To me, it's just about the process," said Stevens, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound redshirt junior who is in his third season playing behind the durable McSorley. "I think I have taken big strides as a person at Penn State, and I guess I have to learn to kind of be patient. Everything's not going to go exactly how we picture it every time we do something.

"I still have faith in my abilities. I still have faith in my teammates' abilities. So I'm not really, I guess, frustrated by it. Obviously, I need to play better and I want to play better. I promise you that there's nobody that wants me to play better than myself. I've got to continue to prepare, continue to be ready to play, and execute."

Stevens considered leaving Penn State last spring and becoming a graduate transfer at a school where he would have two years of eligibility remaining and not need to sit out a year. But he announced in late March that "after looking around … this is still the best place for me."

Despite the lack of playing time, he said Tuesday he has had no second thoughts about his decision.

"Absolutely not," he said. "Once I made that decision that I wanted to stay here, the book was closed. It hasn't even been anything that's crossed my mind. I'm happy with my decision to stay here. I made the right decision. … It was the best thing for me to do."

Stevens blamed himself for the lost yardage in the Ohio State game, saying he needs to "pay attention to the little things." He said he knew he "probably wouldn't be utilized" against Michigan State because of the style of defense played by the Spartans.

Head coach James Franklin said the decision not to use Stevens in the "Lion" role last week "was more of a scheme thing."

"But we'll look at it every single week to see if it gives us the best opportunity to keep the defense on their toes and keep the defense uncomfortable, whether he is a decoy or whether he is a runner or a thrower or a receiver," he said.

Stevens, who is from Indianapolis, is excited to be returning home this weekend for the Indiana game. He said he distributed 125 tickets to family and friends two years ago, the last time the Nittany Lions played there.

"It was a mess putting those tickets in," he said. "Now I don't expect to have that many people. … I'd say that I'd probably end up with 60 tickets or something like that this weekend."