Penn State will play in the Citrus Bowl without backup quarterback Tommy Stevens.
Penn State head coach James Franklin confirmed the news during a press conference when the team arrived in Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday afternoon.
Stevens will miss the game after having surgery for an unspecified surgery. Franklin almost never releases details about player injuries.
The news was first reported by Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The 6-foot, 5-inch, 240-pound Stevens has dealt with injury issues for much of the last year, missing most of the offseason and the first four games of 2018 with an unspecified foot injury. During spring practice, he watched the action from a scooter, while he wore a walking boot in August.
The Nittany Lions are set to take on Kentucky at 1 p.m. New Year's Day in a battle of 9-3 teams.
“Tommy had an injury about the midpoint of the season that you guys weren’t aware of,” Franklin was quoted as saying on the PSU football website. “We had a lot of discussions about when was the right time to have the surgery.
“Tommy’s family and the staff decided the best time to have the surgery would be after his academics were finished up (and he had gotten) through the season. He was able to do that and now this will allow him, hopefully, to be a full-go for spring ball.”
Stevens is expected to be PSU's starting QB next year after the graduation of three-year starter Trace McSorley. Next year is Stevens' final season of eligibility. In each of the last two offseasons, there was much speculation that Stevens would transfer rather than sit behind McSorley, but he elected to stick with the Lions.
Clifford expected to be backup QB: With Stevens out for the game, Sean Clifford is now expected to serve as McSorley's primary backup for the bowl game. The 6-2, 219-pound redshirt freshman was extremely effective in limited mop-up duty this season, going 5 for 5 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He QB rating was an astronomical 559.60.
McSorley, by comparison, had a QB rating of 124.29, while Stevens' QB rating was 168.55. McSorley was 175 for 328 (53.4 percent) for 2,284 yards with 16 TDs and six interceptions. Stevens was 8 for 11 (72.7 percent) for 110 yards with one TD and one pick. Stevens also ran for 118 yards on 28 carries and caught two passes for two yards.
Stevens had been used occasionally alongside McSorley in the team's "Lion" package. That package, however, wasn't nearly as effective in 2018 as it had been in the previous season.
Balancing business and fun: Franklin said all of the team's game planning for the bowl is already in place. The Lions will spend the next several days tweaking a few things and working on timing. He said he wants to make sure the players have time to have fun and enjoy the bowl experience.
"I would say for the coaches, this is a business trip," Franklin said on the PSU football website. "For the players, I want it to be 70/30 or 60/40 in terms of football to fun. For the wives and kids, it's about 99 percent fun and 1 percent business.
Franklin said no other Lions are expected to miss the bowl because of other injuries or academic issues. In fact, he said the team was in "great shape" academically.
Reach Steve Heiser at email@example.com.