Sorry, for some reason I’m in full Brian Fantana mode this morning.
This past weekend your Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 28-0. It’s not the score or the opponent that are notable, but rather a singular position on the Penn State roster - quarterback.
Late in the first quarter, Sean Clifford ran the ball for no gain on a 3rd and 6 play from the Penn State 44. To that point in the game, the 3rd year starter was 2 of 8 passing for 23 yards, and had contributed 2 rushes for 4 yards. Not his best day at the office, but we’ve seen Penn State have sluggish starts on offense in the past. Penn State punted the ball, and after the Lions forced a punt, Clifford did not return to the field.
Instead, true freshman Christian Veilleux trotted out onto the field for the Lions.
Christian’s first drive ended in a punt, but it showed promise. He ran for 5 yards on first down, saw a pass fall incomplete on second, and came up just short on third down after a 4 yard run. The offense still looked a bit anemic, but it did show positive yardage.
Following another exchange of punts, the Lions found themselves on their 33 yard line with 4:37 left in the half. From there, Veilleux went back to work, engineering a drive that saw him complete passes of 12 yards, 14 yards and 8 yards, the last of which was the game-deciding touchdown to Jahan Dotson.
The second half saw the offense move with a bit more purpose. After having punted 5 times in the first half, the Lions punted just twice in the second half. After having three 3-and-outs in the first half, the Lions didn’t have any in the second half.
Most importantly, on three consecutive drives, the Lions tacked on touchdowns. Against a Rutgers team that struggled to move the ball all day, any insurance policy was welcome to see. Unlike against, say, Illinois, the Lions didn’t let their opponent hang around indefinitely. Rather, they pulled away, slowly but surely.
And generated a quarterback controversy in the process.
At this point, the Lions are playing for post-season seeding. They’d like to squeeze as many wins as they can out of this season, and perhaps play spoiler at the same time.
For me, it’s all about putting the team in the best position to win. If Sean Clifford is 100% healthy, you have to play him. He earned the starting gig for 3 years for a reason, and this very well could be his last couple games in the Blue and White.
But here’s the thing - I don’t think Clifford has been 100% healthy since the Iowa game, way back in early October.
So what do you do if your choices are Sean Clifford at 80%? 75%? 50%? Versus a 100% Christian Veilleux who, unlike the other backup quarterback who was suddenly thrust into a game after the starter went down, not only led the team to victory but actually looked exceptionally poised while doing so.
It’s a tough position for James Franklin. Given his loyalty, I’d most likely wager that Clifford gets the start against Michigan State, and then whatever team the Lions play in their bowl game.
But loyalty aside, if Clifford appears to be struggling - and 2 of 8 passing is the definition of struggling to me - I’d be willing to give Veilleux a series, just to see what happens.
What say you? Who should get the nod against Michigan State?