A perfectly reasonable response to seeing Sean Clifford exit the game would be flashbacks of the Nittany Lions heartbreaker against Iowa, when the offense effectively shut down with #14 on the sidelines.
Clifford tried his best to grit out another performance on Saturday, but was clearly not anywhere near his usual self as he battled with the flu and several nagging injuries. He checked out for the day after completing just two of his first eight passes, paving the way for Christian Veilleux’s first meaningful snaps as a Nittany Lion.
The odds seemed to be stacked against him. Not only was the team counting on a true freshman with no experience, Veilleux had not seen actual game action since 2019 after his senior season was cancelled due to the pandemic. He had also been battling the flu bug alongside Clifford, and many of his teammates, that kept him out of practice Friday evening and kept his status unclear until just prior to kickoff. It was nowhere near an ideal set of circumstances to start his college career.
However, Veilluex didn’t just exceed expectations - he shined in leading the Penn State offense to a 28-0 victory.
The true freshman showed unexpected poise from the beginning, playing as though he had been in the lineup for much of the season. He navigated the pocket, made progressions and took advantage of the space given by the defense to move the chains with his legs. However, the first two drives ended with punts.
He was clearly more comfortable for his third possession, a 10-play drive that ended with his first career touchdown pass — a clutch, eight-yard strike as he found Jahan Dotson in the back of the end zone on third and goal. The score gave Penn State a 7-0 lead right before halftime, that would build momentum for a dominating second half.
The first two drives of the second half would end in punts, although they featured a third down scramble to move the chains by Veilleux, as well as a 30-yard strike to Dotson before both drives stalled out.
The next two drives were much more successful, both ending in touchdowns to give Penn State breathing room on the way to a decisive victory. His second touchdown pass was a 17-yard toss that was put in place for Parker Washington to make a remarkable catch in the end zone. On the next drive, he quickly identified a blown coverage (to put it mildly) to get the ball to fellow freshman Malick Meiga for a 67-yard score.
It was an impressive start that at least tamped down fears for the quarterback room for now. He ended the day by completing 15 of 24 attempts for 235 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions or lost fumbles.
DTs Derrick Tangelo and Coziah Izzard - the duo set the tone for a brilliant defensive performance, shutting down the middle from the very start as Rutgers offense failed to ever find a rhythm on the day.
WR Parker Washington - Washington led the receivers with six catches for 72 yards and a score, that included two magnificent highlight reel receptions.
The Entire Defense - Hats off to the lineup that was missing some key parts and had to deal with an uncertain lineup until kickoff. They were relentless for a full 60 minutes as they earned their second shutout in Big Ten play of the season, allowing just 10 first downs and 160 yards of total offense.