Much has been made about whether Penn State would have upset then-No. 2 Iowa two weeks ago had Nittany Lions senior quarterback Sean Clifford played the full game.
He didn’t, and Penn State lost 23-20, its only loss of the season to date.
Clifford left the game in the second quarter and didn’t play in the second half after taking a big hit. He wasn’t the only Penn State player to be injured during the game, however.
The Nittany Lions lost defensive tackle PJ Mustipher for the season and other players on defense were hurt and returned at various points.
The injuries piled up to the point Iowa fans began booing injured Penn State players, thinking they were faking the injuries. After the game, and for several days to follow, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and Penn State’s James Franklin traded barbs in the press over that.
Whether or not that actually happened, Clifford did get hurt and was replaced by Ta’Quan Roberson. The Nittany Lions had a bye last week and will take on Illinois at home Saturday for their homecoming game.
Here’s what to know about the Penn State quarterback as the Illini come to Beaver Stadium in Week 8.
What was Sean Clifford’s injury?
Penn State coach James Franklin didn’t say explicitly what was ailing Clifford, but the quarterback was holding his back as he walked into the locker room after taking a big hit.
Franklin’s policy is to comment on the specifics of injuries only if they’re season-ending. With Clifford, he offered some insight even if he didn’t comment fully. The eighth-year Nittany Lions coach said Clifford was “receiving treatment” from the medical team in an effort to return as soon as possible.
What is Sean Clifford’s status for Saturday?
As of his latest media availability Wednesday, Franklin wasn’t sure whether Clifford would be back in time for Saturday’s game.
“I don’t know at this stage, but we’ll see where he’s at by Saturday,” Franklin told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “Hopefully, obviously, we’ll have an idea before that. But it was good to see him be able to get some reps today in practice.”
Franklin also confirmed that Wednesday was not Clifford’s first day back at practice and that he had been taking reps throughout the week.
“With Sean, he has shown his toughness over the years both physically and mentally,” Franklin said. “Doing everything he possibly can to put him in the best position to get back as soon as possible, whenever that may be.”
Franklin was noncommittal in his answer. It seems as if Clifford’s status may remain uncertain until kickoff Saturday.
Who starts if Clifford is out?
Clifford, Roberson and Christian Vellieux split practice reps evenly this week, with each getting a third of them. If Clifford can’t go, Roberson or Vellieux will get the start.
Roberson entered the season as the clear No. 2 behind Clifford, but the redshirt sophomore struggled in his first extended action. He completed just 7 of 21 passes for 34 yards and threw two interceptions vs. Iowa.
Vellieux hasn’t seen any collegiate action since arriving in Happy Valley, though the freshman did impress at practice this week and closed the gap — something Franklin said shouldn’t have happened.
“If it’s close, it really shouldn’t be, right?” Franklin said. “The guy that’s been in the program for a long time and the guy that’s getting the most reps should be able to widen that gap and right now it’s somewhat close.”