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Analyzing Midseason Reactions For Penn State Football

It might be hard to believe, but No. 7 Penn State football is ready to begin the second half of its 2021 season.

The Nittany Lions will kick off against Illinois at noon on Saturday for their seventh game of the campaign. Before we see Penn State move on to the Fighting Illini and a gauntlet of Big Ten East play, however, there’s still plenty to discuss as the team comes out of the bye week.

With that in mind, let’s break down some chatter surrounding James Franklin’s group following its first six games.

‘Christian Veilleux & Ta’Quan Roberson Will Both See Significant Playing Time Against Illinois’

Will Pegler: Sean Clifford’s injury status is still unclear coming out of the bye week. James Franklin said the quarterback is doing everything he can to return “as soon as possible,” but Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux are splitting reps in the meantime.

If Clifford is in fact unable to play this Saturday due to the injury sustained against Iowa, I see Roberson as the starter. That’s just on a matter of continuity and experience for the Nittany Lions. However, based on Franklin’s comments about the competition on Tuesday, don’t be surprised if the true freshman gets a shot to run Penn State’s offense is Roberson struggles early.

Sam Brungo: Ta’Quan Roberson will see significant time. I think he is the clear backup, and I don’t see that changing. Maybe if the team goes up a lot early on, we’ll see Veilleux on the field a bit, but I don’t think he will see much more than the fourth quarter.

Ryan Parsons: After what went down at Wednesday’s practice, who really knows? At this point, I think it’s pretty unlikely both of these backups will see “significant” playing time. Clifford has been practicing this week, so if he isn’t fully ready to go for Illinois, I think Penn State will just pick one guy and stick with him throughout the game. It’s possible the third-stringer will come in towards the end, but I would hardly count that as “significant.”

Gabe Angieri: I don’t think both of them will receive significant playing time against Illinois. Heck, I think it’s possible Sean Clifford starts Saturday and neither of Roberson or Veilleux play a significant role. James Franklin said after practice Wednesday that Clifford split a third of the reps with the other two signal-callers and that Wednesday wasn’t Clifford’s first practice of the week.

Even if Clifford doesn’t play, I think it’s likely just one of Roberson and Veilleux get significant playing time.

‘The Rushing Attack Will Improve In The Second Half Thanks To A Week Of Rest’

Will Pegler: Not sure how much a bye week will jumpstart a run game that’s really struggled up to this point. However, if the time off was enough to get Noah Cain back to himself and help John Lovett and Devyn Ford heal injuries from the Iowa game, then maybe it’s exactly the restart the group needed.

Sam Brungo: I think this is fair to say. Noah Cain has been banged up and will use Illinois as a bounce-back game to find his groove again. I am confident that if he gets it going again, the rest of the room will follow suit.

Ryan Parsons: Improve? Probably, yes. Be efficient and effective? At this point, probably not. Penn State has been trying to put the pieces together for weeks now, and between injuries and blocking mishaps, it just hasn’t happened yet. Maybe the bye week will do great things for this Ja’Juan Seider’s crew, but I wouldn’t count on it at this point. It’s hard to even keep track of who the RB1 is.

Gabe Angieri: I just don’t think this can be a given. One of Penn State’s biggest problems is that it can’t run the ball effectively. Having a bye week doesn’t mean that problem goes away. The Nittany Lions need to come out against Illinois and prove they can run the ball. If not, it could be another brutal half of season for Penn State on the ground.

‘PJ Mustipher’s Injury Will Have A Seriously Negative Effect On The Defensive Line’

Will Pegler: Penn State’s defense is loaded, there’s no denying that. Even with a star like Mustipher out, interior players such as Derrick Tangelo and Dvon Ellies will likely step up. However, as a captain and veteran on the defensive front, Mustipher was seemingly the heart and soul of Brent Pry’s unit. He’ll still likely add value in that role from the sidelines, but the lack of the senior’s on-field presence could hurt this group down the stretch.

Sam Brungo: There’s some depth to play around with at that position, but with that comes extreme inexperience. I think that transfer Derrick Tangelo will carry a large amount of the work load, but Mustipher’s injury will be felt, and he will be missed sorely in the middle of the defensive line. His experience, skill set, and leadership are truly irreplaceable.

Ryan Parsons: I don’t think it will have a seriously negative impact, but Mustipher will certainly be missed. I don’t think his leadership will be missed, as he’s not going anywhere guys have already praised how well he’s been taking the injury. But, the lineman has been a force all season, and Dvon Ellies has big shoes to fill. The silver lining his that guys like Ellies, Coziah Izzard, and Amin Vanover will get more reps now.

Gabe Angieri: PJ Mustipher is of course a huge loss for the Nittany Lions. His importance both on the field and as a leader shouldn’t be understated, and Brent Pry’s defense will definitely be hurt by his absence. However, I do think Penn State has solid depth at the position, with players such as Derrick Tangelo and Dvon Ellies set to take on a larger role. So yes, I think Penn State will miss Mustipher, but I think it has enough depth to overcome it.

‘Jordan Stout Will Play A Key Role Down The Stretch In A Brutal Big Ten East Slate’

Will Pegler: Despite the loss, Jordan Stout’s punting ability helped to flip the field on multiple occasions for Penn State’s defense in Kinnick Stadium. Also, other than one short-range miss and an extra-point blunder, he’s been solid on field goals for the Nittany Lions. When Penn State needs clutch stops against teams such as Michigan and Ohio State, a bombed punt or automatic touchback could be the difference for the defense.

Sam Brungo: Jordan Stout is a game-changer.

Ryan Parsons: Stout’s multifaceted specialist ability has been huge for Penn State all season. Heading into the bye week, he held a conference-high 48.8 yards per punt and has sent nearly every kickoff through the end zone. Combine this with the Nittany Lions’ suffocating defense, and opposing offenses are going to continue to be in trouble down the stretch.

Gabe Angieri: Jordan Stout is an absolute stud, man. He’s one of the best punters in the country, bombs the ball through the end zone on every kickoff, and holds his own on field goals. He’s led the way for a really good Penn State special teams unit thus far this season. I expect him to continue being a key player on this Nittany Lions squad.

‘Mike Yurcich Has Exceeded Expectations Up To This Point’

Will Pegler: Mike Yurcich had seriously high expectations when he arrived in Happy Valley. He’s certainly been a better fit than Kirk Ciarrocca, but it’s still clear the offense hasn’t fully hit its stride quite yet. Yurcich is a fiery guy who seems to be loved by the players, so on that front he’s hit a home run. Until the offense plays a full, dominant performance against a Big Ten defense, however, I won’t say he’s exceeded any expectations.

Sam Brungo: This offense has been fun to watch, but I’m not sure if Yurcich has exceeded my expectations yet. I expected this to be a top-ten team in the country, but I think a lot of that is thanks to the defense. I’m impressed, but for me to be blown away by this offense, the group needs to take it to the next level and find a way to put up bigger numbers rather than just relying on the other two phases. Should be fun to see what he has in store the rest of the season.

Ryan Parsons: Yurcich has done a great job turning Penn State’s offense around after the disaster of last year. Just because of how low the bar was, I would say he’s exceeded expectations. As a quarterbacks coach, he’s done a great job making Sean Clifford confident, poised, and efficient. However, it’s hard to ignore the struggles the Nittany Lions are facing in the run game. I also was expecting more explosive plays, especially with a deep threat like Jahan Dotson on the roster. But, overall, Yurcich has been a terrific hire for James Franklin.

Gabe Angieri: I wouldn’t say Yurcich has exceeded expectations quite yet, but he’s done a solid job so far. The offense has had some really good moments, but adding more consistency could go a long way. Getting Sean Clifford back is essential of course, but a strong second half of the season for the offense could change my opinion.

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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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