Nick Stevens didn’t take long to get comfortable in his first career start.
The redshirt sophomore, who admitted he had a case of the butterflies before kickoff, hit four different receivers on his first drive, culminating with a 9-yard strike to Kivon Cartwright to put CSU up 14-0 just 2:25 into the game. He said that CSU’s defense scoring on the first possession took most of those nerves away, though there were still some when he walked onto the turf as CSU’s starting quarterback for the first time.
If he was nervous, he sure didn’t show it. Just three weeks after being named CSU’s starter, Stevens torched Savannah State’s abysmal secondary for five touchdown passes, all to different receivers. He finished just one touchdown short of tying the school record, and he did it all in about two quarters of action. The five touchdowns tied former quarterback Garrett Grayson’s career-high total, with Grayson watching from the sidelines. Stevens was efficient, decisive and strong with the ball. Head coach Mike Bobo praised him after the game, noting that his confidence seemed to grow with each series on the field.
“I can’t say enough about Nick Stevens,” Bobo said. “He kind of had a couple of shaky practices during the last week and a half, and I thought he was pressing too much. But he came out in warmups, and he was throwing the ball great. He was very decisive on his plays, and when he cut it loose he had some mustard on the ball. We turned (a defender) free on the fake-reverse pass, the line slid the wrong way and he delivered a strike to Kivon, and that’s just making a play. He was confident, he knew where to go and he delivered the ball.”
For the day, Stevens finished 20 of 28 for 289 yards and the aforementioned five touchdowns. His most impressive throw may have come in the third quarter, when he put the ball right on the money to receiver Joe Hansley, who had defender draped all over him in the end zone. It was on a simple slant route, but one of the biggest questions surrounding Stevens has been the strength of his arm, something Hansley said isn’t a problem.
“He does a great job finding throwing lanes – Nick is a great quarterback,” Hansley said. “He’s smart, and he anticipates. Everyone knows he doesn’t have a rocket for an arm, he’s got a great arm, but he’s not Brett Farve — we know that. So he goes out there and anticipates the throw, throws it early and that gives us a lot of confidence that the ball is going to be where it needs to be.”
It doesn’t hurt, however, to have the array of weapons Stevens has at his disposal, which he took full advantage of Saturday. Stevens connected with eight different targets, including four receivers, two tight ends and two running backs. Despite his big day, he was quick to heap praise on the players on the receiving end of his throws.
“A lot of them were throws that weren’t even into the end zone,” Stevens said. “They were throws in the middle of the field that the guys just made plays on and scored. It’s good to know that I have those weapons, and I’d say to look for a lot more of what you saw today during this season.”
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.