James Franklin: Penn State’s Quarterback Battle Is ‘Still An Open Competition’
Sean Clifford might be the odds-on favorite to earn Penn State football’s starting quarterback job left vacant by Trace McSorley, but head coach James Franklin isn’t ready to decisively say the redshirt sophomore will assume the role just yet.
Franklin said his team’s quarterback situation is “still the same” despite the transfer of veteran Tommy Stevens.
“It’s an open competition,” he said. “I’ve been pretty consistent with that since day one. Obviously, guys who are returning starters have an advantage, but we’re going to have open competitions every single year. You have to go out and earn it every single day.”
As the most experienced signal caller on the roster, Clifford is likely the favorite to win the competition. He completed five of his seven passes for 195 yards and two scores, including a program-record 95-yard touchdown toss to Daniel George against Kent State, in 2018.
Franklin made it clear that every position will go through an open competition in the buildup to the 2019 season. Though his comments may not seem like the strongest vote of confidence for Clifford, Franklin trusts the redshirt sophomore’s abilities as a quarterback.
“My confidence level [in Clifford] is very high,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence in Sean and what he’s been able to do. He was able to get work last year that probably would’ve been Tommy’s work.”
That said, redshirt freshman Will Levis will be given every opportunity to earn the job against Clifford in the buildup to the 2019 season. Levis hasn’t thrown a pass at the collegiate level yet, but his 6’3″, 234-pound frame and strong arm are his best assets.
At this point, Levis will likely begin the year as Sean Clifford’s backup. The head coach confirmed he’ll be “thrust into a more significant situation” in 2019. He went 4-for-7 with 86 yards and a touchdown during the 2019 Blue-White game, including a 59-yard strike to Dan Chisena that was immediately followed by a surprise scholarship announcement for the wideout.
“Instead of it being a three-way quarterback battle with Levis, Sean, and Tommy, now it’s a three-way battle with one of the two freshmen [Michael Johnson Jr. and Taquan Roberson],” Franklin said.
Johnson Jr. and Roberson are both dual-threat options who had quieter Blue-White games. Roberson completed three of his nine pass attempts for 19 yards, and Johnson Jr. finished the game 4-for-4 for 36 passing yards. Both freshmen failed to get anything going on the ground, combining for -12 rushing yards on 10 carries.
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Penn State earned a ranking in the preseason AP Top 25 poll for the third consecutive season.
The past five No. 15s in the preseason AP Top 25 poll have been a mixed bag of seven-loss mediocrity and 9-4 records, but the 2017 Georgia Bulldogs proved that starting at No. 15 isn’t all bad.
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