‘He’s Doing All The Right Things’: Experience Strengthening Drew Allar’s Road Start Preparations
Unlike many freshman making their debut, Drew Allar’s first appearance in a Penn State football jersey wasn’t in a blowout.
A true freshman, Allar was already heralded as the future of Nittany Lion football when the team started its first game of the season on the road at Purdue in 2022. But sixth-year quarterback Sean Clifford had been named the starting quarterback for the season, and Allar was expected to stay on the bench at a Black Out game in West Lafayette, Indiana. There was no such luck for the young quarterback.
Clifford went down with what was assumed to be a left knee injury in the third quarter. Now a Green Bay Packer, Clifford had brought the Nittany Lions to a 21-17 advantage with 26 minutes of football left to play. But with Penn State throwing Allar, an inexperienced quarterback, into the mix, what happened next was unpredictable at the moment.
Allar held it together. He wasn’t thrilling, but he didn’t let his team down either. Two completions on four throws later, Penn State punted the football away. Clifford came back into the game, and Penn State won the game 35-31 thanks to a two-minute drill from the veteran gunslinger that would set the tone for the rest of the season.
The Purdue game wasn’t Allar’s show. But it did prepare him for his road debut more than a year later, when he’ll head west again to face Illinois Saturday.
“Like I keep saying with Drew, he’s doing all the right things and taking all the necessary steps,” James Franklin said at midweek availability Tuesday. “I do think his game last year at Purdue was helpful.”
That Purdue game is reminiscent of a past era of Penn State football. After the 2022 season, all six of the team’s captains — each of whom had been with the team for four years or more — departed to pursue professional careers. Top options at tight end, center, wide receiver, and the team’s then-starting running back have all since left the program. And of course, the team’s starting quarterback of four years played his last season opener that night in West Lafayette.
The win over the Boilermakers was also a glimpse into the Nittany Lions’ future. One of the nation’s top running back duos made its debut that game, as Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen combined for 62 yards on 19 carries, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith cemented himself as a strong challenger to the heir of then-top receiver Parker Washington’s throne.
Perhaps most importantly, Allar threw a football in a college game.
“It’s definitely an experience I’ve had in my past, but we played on the road a ton last year,” Allar said. “Even if I didn’t get in the game, I was still able to experience what it’s like to be on the road, and I think it’s going to be a great challenge.”
While it was far from a Beaver Stadium-sized attendance, Purdue’s crowd of 57,307 dressed in mostly black at Ross-Ade Stadium created an impressive atmosphere that Penn State fans back in State College could feel through the TV.
Like his away debut, Allar faces a color-themed crowd for his first away start. Illinois announced its matchup against the Nittany Lions would serve as an “Orange Out.” After Penn State played in another “Orange Out” against Auburn and a “Maize Out” against Michigan in 2022, the game will be Allar’s fourth away game in a monochrome stadium.
“They have a great fan base, and they have a really cool environment at that stadium,” Allar said. “Obviously, Illinois plays a lot of teams extremely tough. So it’s definitely going to be a challenge for us this week.”
While away debuts can be difficult for some, Penn State spent plenty of time preparing for loud road environments in practice. Pumped-in crowd noise from the speakers at Holuba Hall and the outdoor practice fields can be heard down Pollock Road on campus.
Like so much else with Penn State football, the questions remain about what Allar will do next. However, Franklin doesn’t seem concerned about Allar’s preparedness for the game or for the preparedness of much of the team for that matter.
“We expect it to be a challenging road environment, but we didn’t wait until this week to prepare for that,” Franklin said. “Whether it’s crowd noise or whatever it may be, we’ve done that all training camp.
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