No. 7 Penn State is coming off a painful loss to Iowa, and a huge matchup with No. 5 Ohio State awaits next weekend.
In between, the Nittany Lions (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) have to make sure they don’t look past Illinois (2-5, 1-3) on Saturday when the conference rivals meet in University Park, Pa.
In a matchup of top-five teams at the time, Penn State led Iowa 17-3 before quarterback Sean Clifford was injured — and it all fell apart from there in a 23-20 defeat. That was on Oct. 9, so the Nittany Lions have had two weeks to regroup and get ready for the Fighting Illini.
Clifford has had two weeks to get healthy, too, of course. But it appears as if that won’t be enough time for the veteran quarterback to heal his undisclosed injury.
“Sean has shown his toughness physically and mentally over the years,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “(He is) doing everything he possibly can to put him in the best position to get back as soon as possible, whenever that may be. We’ll see, but it won’t be because of a lack of effort on his part. He’s going to do everything that he’s supposed to do from the recommendations of the doctors and trainers.”
In Clifford’s place, Franklin likely will opt to give playing time to both Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux. Roberson struggled in place of Clifford vs. Iowa, hitting 7 of 21 passes for 34 yards, with two interceptions.
As a redshirt sophomore, Roberson should — at least according to Franklin — be able to separate himself from Veilleux, a freshman. But that has not been the case.
“If it’s close, it really shouldn’t be,” Franklin said. “The guy who’s been in the program for a long time and the guy who’s been getting the most reps should be able to widen that gap, and right now it’s somewhat close.”
Whoever is under center for Penn State certainly will be looking toward dynamic wideout Jahan Dotson, who had a career-high 189 receiving yards and two long touchdowns last season in a 56-21 win over Illinois. This season, he leads the Nittany Lions in receptions (43), receiving yards (494) and TD catches (six).
The Illini, meanwhile, have lost five of six since defeating Nebraska in their season opener. They too are coming off a bye week and, like Penn State, entered their two-week break with a sour taste in their mouths.
Illinois was trounced by Wisconsin 24-0 in its last contest and used two quarterbacks. Brandon Peters and Artur Sitkowski essentially have taken turns dealing with injury and inconsistency issues all season. Against the Badgers, the two combined to go 11 of 34 for 67 yards.
Peters suffered an undisclosed injury against Wisconsin and has not practiced since that game.
“If he isn’t cleared for practice, then he can’t play,” coach Bret Bielema said Tuesday. “He can get cleared on Friday or Saturday, but to have a quarterback who hasn’t repped with your players during the course of the week or the game plan, unless it’s forced into an emergency situation, probably isn’t usually beneficial.”
Chase Brown averages 6.9 yards per carry for Illinois and leads the team in rushing yards (414) and TDs (three). Isaiah Williams has 32 catches — 19 more than anyone else on the squad — but none of his receptions have covered more than 28 yards, and he has found the end zone only once, against Nebraska on opening day.
–Field Level Media