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Penn State’s Quarterback Battle Remains Wide Open As Sean Clifford Works Toward Return

James Franklin almost never publicly releases information on a player’s injury unless it’s season-ending, and his approach hasn’t been any different with veteran quarterback Sean Clifford.

The redshirt senior went down in the second quarter against Iowa with an injury that Franklin noted last week “isn’t uncommon” for quarterbacks. However, the head coach is still quiet on what his quarterback’s status is ahead of the Homecoming game against Illinois.

“I’m not gonna get into a whole lot of detail on a Tuesday,” Franklin said. “I haven’t even talked to the players about that yet — haven’t talked to my team about that yet…Haven’t even really had a full-speed practice to do that. Obviously, no different than any other situation, you’d like to make the decision as early as you can. We’re not in position to do that right now.”

Franklin added that Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux will continue to split reps at practice — just as they did during the bye week. As for Clifford, he’s working towards returning “as soon as possible.”

“He’s doing everything you possibly can to put him in the best position to come back as soon as possible — whenever that may be,” Franklin said. “We’ll see, but it won’t be because of a lack of effort on his part.”

While the veteran works toward his return, competition between the two younger signal callers remains tight. Roberson obviously has more experience than the true freshman Veilleux, as he struggled through the loss at Kinnick Stadium and saw time in two games before that this season.

Veilleux, on the other hand, arrived in Happy Valley as an early enrollee in January 2021. The freshman, who originally hails from Ontario, Canada, was rated as a three-star prospect coming out of high school and considered the No. 35 quarterback in the class, according to 247Sports.

Up to this point it was fairly clear that Roberson was the back-up to Clifford, but the difference between him and Veilleux may not be as drastic as some think.

“A player that’s been in the program for a couple of years should really be widening that gap, and a player that’s been in the program for less amount of time, he’s gotta close that gap as much as he can,” Franklin said. “But if it’s close, it really shouldn’t be. The guy that’s been in the program for a long time and is getting the most reps should be able to widen that gap, and right now it’s somewhat close.”

The head coach went on to say that he was planning to meet with both quarterbacks Tuesday afternoon and “challenge” them to continue to compete.

Redshirt junior offensive lineman Bryce Effner, who’s seen an increased amount of time up front this season, gave a more ringing endorsement for the elder quarterback. Effner earned snaps on the offensive line during Roberson’s struggles at Kinnick Stadium, which included eight false starts and just seven completions on 21 attempts, but he remains confident in the redshirt sophomore’s abilities.

“[Ta’Quan]’s grown a lot as a player. I think the team has the utmost confidence that he can perform just as well as [Sean],” Effner said. “I think he’s gonna be a great asset to have on the field.”

While they don’t have a starting quarterback announced at this point in the week, the Nittany Lions do in fact have a game this weekend. They’ll return to Beaver Stadium for a contest against the 2-5 Fighting Illini, which will kick off at 12 p.m. and be broadcast on ABC.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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