Two inexperienced quarterbacks, Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux, are competing this week for the chance to be Penn State’s starter Saturday against Illinois while senior Sean Clifford continues to rehabilitate an undisclosed injury to return to action at an undetermined time.
So that brought James Franklin’s weekly news conference Tuesday around to a familiar topic: Why did the Nittany Lions have so much difficulty finding an experienced quarterback in the NCAA transfer portal to be available in the event of Clifford’s getting hurt?
The issue was broached often during last offseason and came back to life Oct. 9 at Iowa when Clifford was injured on a clean hit in the pocket and left the game. Roberson, who had not taken a snap in college with the outcome of a game still in doubt, piloted the Lions to just three points in a little more than a half and the Hawkeyes’ crowd hounded the visitors to eight false-start penalties.
Franklin said he felt his program had a “good and thorough” process of evaluating the quarterbacks that were available, and that the Lions were aggressive in their pursuit.
“Most guys want to come in and be guaranteed the starting job depending on where they’re at in their careers and why they’re leaving,” he said. “You’re talking about where your program is and what your situation is. Did your starter just graduate, which makes it a very attractive destination? Do you have a returning starter they’re going to compete with?
“Also, [there’s] the impact on your current roster and the impact on recruiting. You have to balance all of that and make sure you’re in a good situation and try to be as up front as you possibly can and transparent so everybody has all the information so they can make good decisions.”
Franklin said some prospective transfer quarterbacks were brought in and worked out “by the rules” of the NCAA, but there was no good fit.
“I’m not in the business, whether it’s high school players or transfers, of making promises,” he said. “I think that’s recruiting talk. We had a player at another position that we would have loved to get, not at the quarterback position, that wanted to be guaranteed that they were going to be the starter. I just don’t know how you do that.
“I think you guys heard me say a year ago that we were committed to doing it if we found the right situation and it made sense. But just to sign a guy to sign a guy, we actually think that would have been detrimental. There’s no way to get them all reps and develop them. So for us, we did everything we possibly could.”
The Lions’ current situation this week finds Roberson, a redshirt sophomore, and Veilleux, a freshman, being given close to an equal amount of practice reps. Franklin said he and his coaches would like to make a decision on a starter as early in the week as they can.
As for Clifford, Franklin reiterated that his starter of 26 career games is doing everything he can to return as soon as possible, although he wouldn’t put a timetable on when that would be.
“We’ll see, but it won’t be because of a lack of effort on his part,” the coach said. “He’s going to do everything that he’s supposed to do for the doctors and the trainers and their recommendations, make sure that the parents are informed and involved in the process as well.
“Mentally, in terms of preparation and how he approaches the game, he’s as good as I’ve been around. So he’s doing all the right things. I’m not surprised by that and hopefully that will put him in the best position to come back as soon as possible.”
More job talk
Franklin, who was linked to the Southern California head coaching job after Clay Helton was fired five weeks ago, finds himself being talked about for another position — head coach of Louisiana State, where Ed Orgeron will leave at the end of the season.
Does he get tired of being mentioned for every opening?
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “I guess the best way to describe it is, I care what people think and I want to handle things the right way all the time with the players, with the staff, with the administration. I want to use the golden rule — treat people the way you’d want to be treated.
“I want to come to work every single day and do my job and help these players achieve their dreams, and the staff and do right by the university and the community. So yeah, I do.”