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QB Primer: Taking a look at the Penn State quarterback room

Just like Michigan, the Nittany Lions have a pair of options under center.

Maryland v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

It has been a bad year for the Michigan Wolverines; there is nothing that can be said to refute that. However, things are going even worse in Happy Valley, though Penn State has certainly benefited from lightning rod Jim Harbaugh taking the bulk of the criticism this season. The Nittany Lions enter this week’s contest somehow 0-5 and have maybe even more controversy at quarterback than the Wolverines.

The season started with returning starter Sean Clifford at the helm, who posted 2,654 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2019. His first couple games were not too bad, despite both ending in losses, but a sub-50 percent completion percentage and pair of interceptions against Maryland might have spelled the beginning of the end for the redshirt junior.

Penn State Quarterback Stats

Player Completion % Passing Yards Passing TDs Interceptions Rushing TDs
Player Completion % Passing Yards Passing TDs Interceptions Rushing TDs
Sean Clifford 57.2 1,070 11 8 1
Will Levis 57.4 325 0 0 0

No clear answer

Clifford got the start in the next game against Nebraska, but after throwing a pick and failing to move the offense, James Franklin decided to go with backup Will Levis, who finished out the game. Apparently the Nittany Lions liked what they saw, as Levis got the start the next week at Iowa. But after a fruitless first half and some costly turnovers, Clifford entered the game as a replacement.

Penn State still lost to the Hawkeyes, but it was clear which quarterback brought more to the table. Clifford’s line exemplifies the dilemma though: he threw a pair of touchdowns to give the Nittany Lions a chance, but his pair of interceptions ultimately sealed the loss as well. It would be completely justifiable to start Clifford going forward, but he is far from reliable.

The aforementioned Levis is unlikely to jumpstart the offense if he were to get his second straight start. The former three-star recruit is maybe a bit safer, but his two fumbles against Iowa were just too much to justify keeping him in the game. Levis has also failed to find the end zone in either appearance this season. While he was able to facilitate a few scoring drives against Nebraska, he has really not done a ton through the air when he has been in the game.

What to watch against Michigan

The hope was that Levis would be Penn State’s Cade McNamara, but early returns are not quite the same. While it is unclear if McNamara is actually good or not, he at least has some nice numbers to go with his playing time. Levis could maybe get it done against a secondary as poor as Michigan’s, but he is not exactly entering Saturday on a hot streak.

It probably makes the most sense for the Nittany Lions to roll with Clifford and just accept the bad with the good. He is likely to make some mistakes and is not going to inspire a ton of confidence, but he could very well have a nice game against the Wolverine defense. Whoever starts is probably on a short leash though, and sometimes the spark a backup brings by entering the game is the most meaningful part of making a change anyway.