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Christian Veilleux’s Performance Opens The Door For A Different Kind Of What If

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Christian’s potential affords the coaching staff flexibility in the quarterback room.

Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Veilleux (9) looks to throw a pass during a warmup prior to the game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Beaver Stadium.  Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

There’s an easy way to think about Christian Veilleux’s performance on Saturday against Rutgers. We can look backward, and try to rewrite history in placing him, instead of Ta’Quan Roberson, against Iowa. We could place him, instead of a still-injured Sean Clifford, against an Illinois team that may be one of the worst losses in the James Franklin Era. If Veilleux played in those games, it’s possible that neither one is a loss at the moment, and Penn State is looking at a 2-loss season at worst, and a Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff appearance at best.

But the past is the past. We can come up with as many different scenarios that leads us to where we are today as scenarios where everything works perfectly. Veilleux, like Roberson, can’t handle the atmosphere at Kinnick, and ends up being the scapegoat for the fanbase’s frustrations, like Roberson was. Illinois runs for over 300 yards anyway, and the game plays out not too dissimilarly from how it did in reality, and now a guy who hadn’t played a snap of football in two years has his confidence completely destroyed after two disastrous games.

And that’s the issue with trying to rewrite the past. We know what happened, and even if the tweaks are minute, it still means rewriting the past. Something else that happened, however, is that against Rutgers, Veilleux threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns, while completing 62.5 percent of his passes.

Against Rutgers, he looked like the kind of player who is more than equipped to handle the offense not only if Clifford is unavailable, but if he is tasked with being the guy moving forward. He looked poised in the pocket, making time for himself when he needed to, and taking off and running when the pocket collapsed. He spread the ball to his receivers just as we’ve seen Clifford do all season long. But, most importantly, he led the team to victory in a situation where not having done so wouldn’t have been knock on him at all.

And that’s the best kind of what if you can hope for. The wonder of possibility, the idea that, even if Penn State does lose Clifford at the end of the season, they won’t necessarily be forced to start Drew Allar right out of high school. Because Veilleux showed he has the aptitude, ability, and now production, to give the coaching staff the breathing room necessary to make smart decisions when planning their roster for 2022 and beyond.

All that said, it’s not wise to get ahead of ourselves. Veilleux still played in one game, in a unique situation, against a team that, unless they are able to win their last game, won’t go bowling. Christian still needs to show he can repeat this performance against the better teams in the conference. And, realistically speaking, the fact that he hadn’t played until now means that there was some learning still to be done on his part to get to where he is now. The player we saw on Saturday is most likely a better version than the player we may have seen in early October, one that has taken as many reps with the first and second teams as has been needed since Clifford’s injury, and one that now has a better command of the Nittany Lion offense than what we were likely to see a month and a half ago.

All in all, the quarterback room, today, looks a lot better than it did two weeks ago. The pair of Drew Allar and Beau Pribula provide young talent to the roster. The possibility of a transfer will provide competition. The likelihood that Clifford returns provides experience. And the validation that Veilleux can lead the offense provides peace of mind.

The quarterback room may be OK after all.