Saturday afternoon, it didn’t matter who Nick Stevens was throwing to or against – he was simply in the zone.
The upcoming redshirt sophomore from Murrieta, California tossed four touchdown passes, two as the quarterback of the Gold team, and two as the quarterback of the Green team, in a 38-34 win for the Green squad in CSU’s spring game.
Though head coach Mike Bobo has said the quarterback competition will continue through the summer and into fall camp, Stevens moved a little bit closer toward solidifying himself as the No. 1 QB with a stellar performance that was light-years ahead of where he’s been through the first month of spring practices.
Stevens opened with the first-team offense Saturday, and wasted no time spreading the ball around to a variety of a receivers. On the first drive alone, he hit newly-minted fullback Nu’uvali Fa’apito, speedy slot receiver Deionte Gaines and tight end Nolan Peralta, each time for a first down. Running back Dalyn Dawkins punctuated the drive with an 8-yard touchdown.
While the route trees weren’t incredibly complex, most of Stevens’ work in the first half came against the No. 1 defense, where he carved up a secondary that has been battered with injuries in the spring. Maybe Stevens’ most successful plays came when he didn’t have the ball in his hands for long and was able to get it out to his playmakers through quick routes, screen plays and swing passes.
“I think (those plays) will be a part of our offense,” Stevens said after the game. “Screens and check-downs, we’ve got to get the ball into backs’ hands, who should be able to make at least one defender miss. It’s a good way to get yards and kind of combat pressure because if they run by a screen, there’s no one down there to make a tackle.”
Stevens was comfortable in the pocket, made the correct read more often than not and was able to “let it rip,” as Bobo said. Saturday was a stark contrast from last weekend’s scrimmage at Dove Valley, where Bobo and Stevens agreed that he tried to aim the ball too much instead of trusting his arm and just letting the ball go.
Photos by Austin Simpson
After throwing his first two touchdowns, a 19-yarder to Jordon Vaden on an inside post route and a 39-yard go route to Joe Hansley, Stevens switched to the Gold team at half time, and ran with the second-team offense while Craig Leonard and Coleman Key split reps with the first team. In the first half alone, he completed 18 of 24 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
With the second group, he found a match-up he liked on the outside with wide receiver Trey Smith and exploited it for two more touchdowns, a 71-yard bomb in the third quarter, and another 49-yard TD on a go route late in the fourth. On the day, Stevens finished 27 of 41 for 438 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Between the two halves on different teams, he completed a pass to 14 of the 17 players who caught a ball, including four of the five running backs who saw action.
Even more impressive was that he did it without three key targets, Rashard Higgins, Kivon Cartwright and Elroy Masters Jr., who all sat out of Saturday’s game.
“Nick, he’s the guy,” running back Treyous Jarrells, who caught three passes from Stevens, said. “He’s gotten a lot more comfortable, and he’s got a swagger about himself. He stepped up today and I’m real proud of him.”
Now through all 15 practices of the spring and looking forward to an entire summer to learn the ins and outs of Bobo’s playbook, Stevens has some time to break down what went right and what needs to be fixed before the team reconvenes in August.
“Day one (of spring ball) it was a little rough because I didn’t really know what was going on out there because it’s all new stuff,” Stevens said. “I think over the past few weeks, the whole offense has done a great job of learning the concepts and coming out with tempo. We know that if we mess up, we’ve got to mess up at 100 percent.”
And though Stevens’ performance was a step forward, both he and Bobo know there’s a lot that can happen in the next four months.
“He did a nice job,” Bobo said. “He knew where he was going with the ball, he missed a couple but that’s going to happen. I thought he was a lot more decisive in his throws, and he was letting it rip. Now it’s on these guys to take what they have learned in spring practice, study it, work on their craft this summer and be ready to compete in the fall.”