Finding Gold in Mississippi: Tommy Stevens
In the second part of this series we look into the new QB on the block at Mississippi State. Only 75 miles from neighbours Ole Miss they too will be blooding a new full time QB in 2019. It will be head coach Joe Moorhead’s second season and he has brought in a familiar face in Penn State transfer Tommy Stevens to potentially help improve the Bulldogs form after an 8-5 season last year.
Life at Penn State
Joe Moorhead was brought to Mississippi State after his impressive work as offensive coordinator at Penn State. In his two years as a Nittany Lion he oversaw the development of Trace McSorley. Moorhead developed an offense that suited the diminutive QB, playing to his strengths of elusivity and playmaking.
The QB battle in Happy Valley wasn’t always straight-forward during Moorhead’s tenure. Tommy Stevens, a 6’4 prospect out of Indianapolis pushed McSorley all the way in spring practices despite a polar opposite make-up. Stevens has prototypical size but is still blessed with exceptional athletic ability which made him a great fit for Moorhead’s offense. Although he couldn’t supplant McSorley the Penn State offense found creative ways to use him.
In their desperation to use Stevens as a multi-purpose weapon Penn State created him a new position entirely for the 2018 season, after Moorhead had departed. The ‘Lion’ role was used to describe how Stevens was used as a runner, passer and even receiver across multiple offensive snaps. He finished his time at Penn State with 8 rushing TDs, 2 receiving TDs and 4 touchdown passes.
So, why have Moorhead and Stevens chosen to reunite in Starkville?
Moving on from Nick Fitzgerald
Well, the Mississippi State offense hasn’t had a truly effective passing QB since Dak Prescott between 2013-15. After Prescott made his way to the NFL, Nick Fitzgerald took up the mantle and despite his passing limitations, his athletic ability made him an effective leader for the Bulldogs offense. His passing completion rate of 54.2 per cent was offset by his rushing touchdown tally of 46 and over 3600 yards running.
Just like Fitzgerald and McSorley were successful under Moorhead an athletic QB like Stevens should be a perfect fit for the current system. Stevens’ transfer was somewhat of a shock as he looked clear favourite to start in 2019 for Penn State. However, head coach James Franklin refused to commit to the notion of a one horse race and Stevens chose not to risk his last year before a likely declaration for the NFL Draft.
Watching the tape
In the first clip, we see Stevens lined up as a halfback positioned to the left of QB McSorley. Stevens receives the hand-off and is able to draw the defense forward, including the slot defender which opens up the receiver for a simple throw on the move. Being able to have two athletes who can pass is a great advantage for any offense.
In the below clip we see Stevens as a true runner. Taking the shotgun pass he quickly picks up on the blindside rusher, shows great instincts and body control to spin out and then despite his size he possesses enough speed to get outside of the defense, get the first down and move out of bounds. These rushing skills will be a key component to the offense in Starkville.
We see further examples of his general athleticism in this clip where he splits out wide to take the catch on the sideline. Displaying awareness and body control he stays in bounds and makes substantial yards after the catch to get the TD.
Finally, we get a clip of the type of play Stevens wants to show the NFL. He takes the snap as a true QB and despite the offensive line breaking down and allowing the blitz, he knows where his receiver is and hangs in the pocket to make the throw that lands the touchdown pass.
Still a battle to be QB1
Despite all of the above, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Stevens will be the unrivalled leader of this offense. Junior Keytaon Thompson showed flashes in relief of Fitzgerald and would have expected to be the incumbent. Sitting a year behind Stevens would mean he would only put one true season of film together. Jalen Mayden redshirted as a freshman last year and therefore is ineligible to sit out another year and the four star recruit will be itching to see action in 2019 for the Bulldogs.
Ultimately, Moorhead holds all the cards. Unless he has guaranteed Stevens a full year as a starting QB, then he will have three solid QB options. Fall camp should see an intense battle and it should make Mississippi State an intriguing watch as the season starts. One thing is for sure – Moorhead will find a way of getting Tommy Stevens onto the field. Whether he can turn him into a draftable QB at the next level is an entirely different question.
Video Credit: YouTube account – nittanynation38
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.coM