The debate is over. Nick Stevens will be the starting quarterback for Colorado State this season, as the redshirt senior was able to silence the critics with a masterful performance in a 31 point beatdown of the Beavers on Saturday.
Throughout the contest, Stevens stood tall in the pocket and looked like the quarterback that Ram fans became accustomed to in the second half of 2016. Despite facing constant pressure throughout, Stevens finished the game 26-of-39 for 334 yards and three touchdowns.
Stevens did throw an interception in the first quarter, but in the veteran quarterback’s defense, he was absolutely leveled on the attempt.
“It felt like I wasn’t going to be able to breathe for another couple of hours,” Stevens said. “Usually a hit like that takes some of the breath out of you, but it took every ounce of breath I have ever breathed.”
Beyond the stat line, what was most impressive about Stevens’ performance was his true grittiness and ability to lead under pressure. After getting the wind knocked out of him and turning the ball over early in the game, Stevens could have easily crumbed. Especially when considering that the Oregon State offense was still very much in the game at this point.
Instead, Stevens picked himself up off the turf and proceeded to throw for more than 300 yards in a game for only the third time in his collegiate career. Even more the California native displayed excellent touch and arm strength throughout the game.
On multiple big plays Saturday afternoon, Stevens was sliding in the pocket or being pressured by an Oregon State defender. None of it mattered. Stevens stood his ground and consistently delivered strikes to the CSU pass-catchers.
“I thought Nick played outstanding today at the quarterback position,” head coach Mike Bobo said. “He showed a lot of toughness. (He) Got hit a lot early.”
Not only was he was accurate with the football but Stevens also displayed the ability to make smart decisions. Throughout Saturday’s victory, No. 7 progressed through his reads and distributed the ball all around the field to different targets.
In the game eight different players caught a pass for the Rams. Of those eight players, six finished with two or more receptions. Stevens completed a pass to four different wide receivers, two tight ends and each of the Rams running backs in the win.
While Stevens played a nearly perfect game Saturday afternoon, it should be noted that he got away with a bad red zone jump pass attempt that easily could have been intercepted.
The third-year starter owned up to the play though, acknowledging that he tried to do too much on the play. Stevens even had a sense of humor about it, joking that he should have trucked the defender and rushed the ball, himself.
Ultimately what should comfort CSU fans the most is how smooth Stevens was during the crucial moments of the game. Whenever Oregon State was able to make a play and steal a little momentum, Stevens came right back at the Beavers with a big play of his own.
During the second half of the 2016 season, Stevens was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation. Although it is early in the season, it appears that he is picking up exactly where he left off.
In what was the biggest game in recent memory, Stevens was as clutch as it gets. If there were any doubts about his ability to lead this team moving forward, they should be gone.
Collegian sports director Justin Michael can be reached by email at email@example.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.