It appears Penn State has a quarterback competition for Saturday’s homecoming game against Illinois.
While head coach James Franklin declined to provide any significant update on injured starter Sean Clifford, he did say that redshirt sophomore Ta’Quan Roberson and true freshman Christian Veilleux will split first-team work in practice this week.
That all but seems to assure that Clifford will not play against the Fighting Illini in Beaver Stadium (noon ET, ABC). His availability for Ohio State the following week is more paramount.
“It’s always a competition, but it’s magnified a little bit, looking at those guys very closely in practice and the scrimmage periods,” Franklin said of Roberson and Veilleux.
Clifford was knocked out of the eventual loss to Iowa 10 days ago after taking a big hit from linebacker Jack Campbell. Penn State was leading 17-3 at the time.
Franklin has refused to offer insight into Clifford’s injury or recovery beyond saying he is suffering from an issue commonly affecting quarterbacks. Injuries to his ribs or throwing shoulder are among the possibilities.
So it appears as if the No. 8 Nittany Lions will play at least one full game without their star QB. Franklin said he’d like to make a decision on a starter as soon as possible but is not ready to do that before the week’s most intense practices Tuesday and Wednesday.
Despite his seniority, Roberson has not been able to pull away with that No. 2 spot yet, Franklin said.
Roberson struggled mightily in a deafening Kinnick Stadium. He completed only 7-of-21 passes for 34 yards with two interceptions. In 11 possessions, he moved the Lions into field goal range once and to midfield just one other time.
The Lions suffered eight false start penalties, having difficulty even snapping the ball.
“There’s growth you’re looking for. A player who’s been in the program a couple of years really should be widening that gap …,” Franklin said on Tuesday.
“It’s not oranges to oranges, it’s not (exactly) even (with Roberson and Veilleux), but that also makes the argument that if it’s close, it really shouldn’t be, right? The guy who’s been in the program a long time and getting the most reps should be able to widen that gap and right now it’s somewhat close.”
Franklin said he planned to meet with both Roberson and Veilleux Tuesday and challenge each for the week of preparation ahead.
“Both of them I’m very impressed with as young men and as competitors and as football players,” Franklin said. “This won’t be any new information to them, but I still think it’s important for me to sit down with them and talk face-to-face …”
Before Iowa, Roberson had played only sparingly in games with the outcome already decided. Veilleux enrolled in Penn State in January and has been the team’s No. 3 quarterback, at least until now.
Meanwhile, the only information Franklin would offer about Clifford was this: “Coming over to the press conference and seeing him in the (training facility), he kind of lives in there, watching film and now getting treatment and doing everything he possibly can to put him in the best position to get back as soon as possible, whenever that may be.”
The Lions may not need a superb quarterback effort to beat struggling Illinois, losers of five of its past six games.
That should drastically alter, though, with a road trip to No. 5 Ohio State on Halloween weekend.
Follow Frank Bodani on Twitter @YDRPennState.
This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: Penn State’s Sean Clifford out? QB battle brewing before Illinois game