PARK, Pa. - Packed into the visiting media room Saturday night, Penn State head
coach James Franklin wasted no time on could of or should of scenarios
surrounding the outcome of Penn State's 2017 season.
Instead, Franklin opted for his customary focus on the positives - and why not, considering the Nittany Lions had only moments ago closed out the regular season with a dominant 66-3 win on the road at Maryland.
In front of sprawling crowd clad in more shades of blue and white than any of the colors on the Maryland flag, the Nittany Lions racked up the most points in a Big Ten game ever, securing back-to-back 10 win seasons for the first time since 2008 and 2009.
Surely that alone is cause for celebration, but for Franklin, what's most inspiring is what's yet to come.
"I think we're trending in the right direction now, Franklin said. "I think whenever you can play well at the end of the season and feel like you're trending in the right direction, it's positive."
The tale of Penn State's consecutive 10-win seasons is hardly a facsimile. Among good times and bad times, for some, it's a stunning achievement considering the tumultuous times. For others, what happened Saturday in College Park didn't come quite quick enough, as Franklin pointed out postgame.
Either way, from the moment Franklin arrived in Happy Valley, there was always belief.
"Obviously not at the time, but yeah, I felt like this was a possibility, Franklin said. "How long it was going to take us to get back to this situation, I'm not sure. For us looking back at it and having perspective, I'm very pleased with where we're at."
Among an abundance of storylines embedded in the uncontested success across the last two seasons, it's impossible to leave out someone like Saquon Barkley. Barkley of course, prefers to assign credit elsewhere when looking back on how far the Nittany Lions have come.
"That's big, you have to give credit to coach Franklin and the coaching staff," Barkley said. "Getting two 10 win seasons, you also have to give credit to your teammates and the guys in the locker room, we worked for it. We worked for it and we pushed, two 10-win seasons is big and I think people fail to realize how big that is."
When asked to compare the two seasons though, among the obviously differences, Barkley pointed to maturity.
"The difference from last year to this year is you see a lot of players growing and maturing in different aspects of their game," Barkley said. "That's the different, you see guys growing and maturing."
As Barkley started list off those Nittany Lions who come to mind, among the few he mentioned was backup quarterback Tommy Stevens.
Stevens was on display early, taking a handoff from quarterback Trace McSorley on a sweep to race into the end zone for a 21-yard run in the first quarter.
McSorley of course, set the foundation for the dominant win, completing 22 of 33 attempts for 237 yards and two touchdowns before Stevens stepped in.
It was Stevens who tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tom Pancoast for his first career touchdown grab. Seemingly fearless, Stevens rushed for 113 yards on 12 attempts, barreling into the end zone twice in the fourth quarter.
"I played different positions growing up so it was never a thing where I was afraid of contact or anything but at the same time, it's been a while since I've felt a little sore before too though," Stevens said postgame.
Penn State backup QB Tommy Stevens had 113 rushing yards and 3 TD, becoming 2nd QB in Penn State history with 100+ rushing yards and 3 rushing TD in the same game.-- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 26, 2017
He joined Eugene "Shorty" Miller: 250 rushing yards + 5 rushing TD in a 1913 game against Carnegie Tech
Perhaps there no one more excited for Stevens' big day than Barkley.
"Tommy Stevens is awesome," Barkley said. "He's a quarterback, but he runs like he's a running back. He's a big body and he's capable of making you miss with speed, power. He can do it all. He can catch the ball. I'm never surprised when Tommy Stevens makes a play, every time he gets on the field you kind of expect him to make that play because he has that impact on the game."
For Stevens, growing up playing a variety of positions all play into his anything to help the team approach. He even recalled once playing running back too, which the 6-foot-5-inch Nittany Lion also noted he clearly grew out of, drawing laughs from a deep contingent of media members gathered around him postgame.
Stevens isn't bothered by the way his game week preparation shakes out though.
"It's not super difficult for me to process," Stevens said. "I wouldn't say that I have too much of a different week than Trace does, we're in the same meetings, we learn the same stuff and ultimately I'm preparing the same way he's preparing. These plays are just a part of the game plan, it's not just me that can be inserted into these packages, we can do the same stuff with any of the different players."
Between the quarterback combo of McSorley and Stevens, it's perhaps just one piece of the differences Barkley was happy to point out, but also one piece that Franklin is excited to see develop.
"We've got a pretty good quarterback in Trace McSorley and we've got a damn good quarterback in our backup quarterback Tommy Stevens," Franklin said. "You have to be careful, sometimes when you get into a two quarterback system, it can mess up the flow but I think we've handled it pretty well this year."