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Penn State Football Entering Season With Unforeseen Promise At Quarterback Behind Likely Starter Drew Allar

No matter which quarterback walks out with the starters in Penn State football’s season opener against West Virginia Saturday, James Franklin should be in good hands.

The quarterback position is one of several for the Nittany Lions where they have previously possessed glaring holes behind the starter. Across the board, however, there seems to be plenty of talent at other positions, so much so that each player can’t get the reps they deserve.

“How do you have enough within your system to take advantage of the strengths of all your
quarterbacks?” Franklin said at midweek availability Tuesday. “We want to make sure that we have game plans that play to all three of their strengths. That’s challenging.”

Penn State’s starting quarterback is all but set. Franklin refuses to officially announce his starter, as is West Virginia head coach Neal Brown, but both sides’ starters are all but publicly known. As expected, Drew Allar is almost certain to trot out under the lights on Saturday.

Allar’s the logical choice to start. Anyone who has coached Allar at Penn State, or even caught or defended one of his passes for that matter, has defended his talent with flying colors. He holds claim to an all-world arm, proven decision-making, swift mobility, and a steady pocket presence. There’s no reason why the former top-ranked high school quarterback in the country shouldn’t be everything that Penn State fans want him to be.

From the first day that Allar showed up on campus in 2022, he’s been the presumed heir to five-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford. Allar’s fall practice performance doesn’t seem to have shaken any of those beliefs.

“I thought he had a great camp. All of his numbers were really good,” Franklin said. “Again, I think going against a really good defense and a really good defensive back unit, there has been a ton of value in that.”

For as long as Allar has been the presumed start for Penn State, another name has been thrown around camp as a strong second option: Beau Pribula.

Pribula, who hails from the same recruiting class as Allar, didn’t take any of the in-game snaps that Allar did while Clifford was starting. All the same, Pribula could see respectable playing time alongside Allar, not just backing him up.

“Not only has Beau done some nice things, but Beau brings an element that maybe Drew doesn’t have,” Franklin said. “I think sometimes as a running quarterback, like Trace was and like Beau is, sometimes those things are hard to evaluate in practice because you don’t really see them… He really reminds me of a bigger Trace.”

Comparing a backup quarterback to Trace McSorley is high praise from Franklin. McSorley remains the only Penn State quarterback to win a Big Ten Championship during Franklin’s tenure and holds the second-most all-time passing yards in program history with 9,899.

However, Franklin’s praise doesn’t mean that Pribula has much of a shot at a starting job. Franklin seems like he could talk about Allar’s potential for hours on end. Pribula might only receive a few minutes of fame, as much as Franklin likes his ability to run.

Franklin also said that he hasn’t announced a starter simply for tactical reasons, not because there’s still an ongoing battle. He just doesn’t want to give West Virginia a leg up going into the game.

Pribula may come into the game without just serving as a closer. Franklin has talked about how he could use Pribula as a more agile and mobile force behind center if certain situations arise. If Penn State needs to push the pile two yards in front of the endzone, Pribula might be the guy for the job.

Even behind Pribula, Franklin seems to have plenty of confidence, too. In a situation where he needs a third-string quarterback, Franklin would look to Jaxon Smolik, a freshman hailing from Iowa. Smolik wasn’t the highly-touted quarterback that Allar or Pribula were when he arrived at Penn State in the shadow of both second-year gunslingers.

Still, Franklin continues to talk about Smolik whenever he talks about the other two. Few reporters have asked about the freshman, but plenty have penciled down answers about him. With Smolik settled into the team, Franklin’s sentiment is that Penn State has “three quarterbacks that have all shown signs that we can win with.”

Franklin seems to feel confident enough in all three quarterbacks that he doesn’t need to keep their coach nearby at all times. Penn State recently announced that Mike Yurcich, the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, would be calling the team’s games from the booth above the field, not from the sidelines as in previous seasons.

Franklin said part of that decision was based on what graduate assistant Danny O’Brien has done to assert himself as a worthy coach with the program. Another element is that Yurcich feels he can call his best game from the booth. The quarterbacks were certainly a factor, and if Yurcich feels confident in calling games away from Allar’s side, by extension, he likely feels the same comfort with the other two.

Fans and the media might not know for certain who will take the first snap for Penn State Saturday, but no matter who it is, Franklin seems confident in his roster across the board.

From spring training camp and on, he’s given high praise to all of his quarterbacks. The resounding internal applause hasn’t stopped as the season has inched closer, either.

“For me, the most important thing is the guys in our locker room, whether it’s from a leadership or a chemistry standpoint,” Franklin said. “We got that. So all the other stuff out there in the universe or on the internet or wherever else, I don’t think that has a huge factor for us.”

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football, and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please direct all praise about punters toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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