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Onward Debate: Who Should Be Penn State Football’s Starting Quarterback?

If you thought things couldn’t get worse for Penn State football halfway through a disastrous 0-4 season, there’s now some quarterback controversy to stress about.

Last week against Nebraska, Sean Clifford started off the game poorly when he turned the ball over twice in the first 20 minutes of action. He was benched in favor of Will Levis in the second quarter and didn’t take another snap the rest of the game.

After the game, James Franklin didn’t name a starting quarterback, which begs the question: Who should be Penn State’s starting quarterback moving forward?

Our football writers made the case for each candidate.

Will Pegler: Sean Clifford

Frankly, I don’t think Sean Clifford should be the starting quarterback against Iowa this weekend. However, it’s not like there’s no argument for him to once again start for the Nittany Lions. The redshirt junior has struggled all year, mainly with turnovers, as he’s thrown six interceptions compared to nine touchdowns. Will Levis was an undeniable spark for the Nittany Lions in Lincoln this past Saturday, something Clifford hasn’t been much of as we now reach the halfway point of the season.

Despite that, there’s no arguing with the fact that Clifford clearly has more experience than Levis. He’s started in 16 of the Nittany Lions’ last 17 contests and, when he’s on, has a strong connection with several targets. Clifford clearly loves to get the ball to Pat Freiermuth and Jahan Dotson, two guys who have hauled in plenty of targets from the quarterback so far this season. Levis just doesn’t get as many in-practice reps with those stars and will take longer to get on the same wavelength as them. Even though it has been few and far between through four games, when Clifford is on, he and those big-time targets can be dominant, as Dotson proved late in the Ohio State game.

If Clifford earns another crack at a start against Iowa, he needs to prove that he can use that experience to hit on his attempts to Freiermuth and Dotson, something that Levis has yet to do.

Ryan Parsons: Will Levis

As Penn State football moves on to Iowa after a weird Nebraska game, Will Levis should keep the starting job at quarterback. Levis is much less experienced than Sean Clifford, but the spark he provided the Nittany Lions with on Saturday is undeniable. His ability to make plays with his feet while also having an absolute cannon for an arm makes him a true dual-threat quarterback. Yes, his accuracy against Nebraska was poor. But I expect that to improve as he gets more reps with the first-team receivers. Giving Levis playing time during this down season will also help him fine-tune his passing game for the future.

Just the fact that he didn’t throw an interception or fumble against the Cornhuskers should be enough to keep the starting job. Clifford has been a turnover machine so far, which has cost the Nittany Lions big time in nearly all of their games. If Levis played all four quarters against Nebraska, his lack of turnovers alone would have been enough to give Penn State the edge. He did have an ugly fumble against Indiana but showed clear improvement last Saturday.

Levis’ energy will also be beneficial to a Penn State offense (and defense) that has looked rather flat and unmotivated. He’s shown a lot of heart and could be the change the Nittany Lions need to start scraping together wins.

Gabe Angieri: Ta’Quan Roberson

Listen, I don’t think starting Ta’Quan Roberson this week is the right move, but there’s certainly a case to be made. Roberson came to Happy Valley last season as a four-star recruit from Wayne, New Jersey. He was listed as the eighth-best dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 class and the No. 5 player from his home state of New Jersey. At DePaul Catholic High School, Roberson totaled 59 touchdowns compared to just 11 interceptions between his junior and senior seasons.

Sean Clifford has struggled mightily four games into his 2020 campaign. He’s completed just 57% of his passes, has turned the ball over eight times (six interceptions, two fumbles), and just hasn’t looked the quarterback we saw last season. Will Levis did provide a spark for the Nittany Lions against Nebraska, but the offense is extremely limited when Levis is under center. Levis has completed a lousy 54% of his passes so far in his college career and has more of a run-first play style that doesn’t allow players like Jahan Dotson and Pat Freiermuth to be fully utilized.

Clifford has struggled, and we know what Levis brings to the table. Why not see what Roberson has in what has become a lost season for the Nittany Lions? Starting Roberson may not be the best “win now” move, but it would give the team a glimpse towards the future.

The more Penn State continues to lose, the more it makes sense to give the reigns of the offense to Roberson.

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