PSU has lots to think about when benching a QB
To answer this week’s question: Absolutely.
Much as coaches want to treat players the same, regardless of position, it just doesn’t, and can’t, work that way.
Quarterback is the most important position on the team — one of the most important positions in all of sports.
Coaches alternate receivers, even using them as messengers with the plays. Running backs shuffle in and out.
Penn State has been subbing in different offensive linemen in a (terminal) search of the best five and the right combination.
Defensive substitution can be liberal as rushing the passer is physically the most demanding position.
Quarterback, however, is different.
It’s been said that head coaches and quarterbacks get too much credit and too much blame. It comes with the territory; that’s why their handling is on a case-by-case basis.
The starting quarterback is more than just the triggerman. He is generally looked upon as the leader of the team. He is almost always available to answer questions, to represent the team, after games — in victory, and even more importantly, in defeat.
And if you’re not up to that, you shouldn’t be playing quarterback at a Power-5 school that draws significant media attention.
I think it’s obvious that Will Levis should be and will be the Nittany Lions’ starter Saturday against Iowa.
While the media, myself included, and fans can anoint a starter quickly after the game, the coaching staff has other considerations.
Though Sean Clifford’s play and eight turnovers (six interceptions, two fumbles returned for touchdowns) has definitely held the Lions back this year, he’s still been the team leader since April 2019 — a span of 19 months and 17 starts.
While Clifford probably will be benched, James Franklin must deal with the potential repercussions. For one thing, depending on how Levis does and if he can stay healthy, Clifford may be needed again.
To this point, there’s no indication that if Clifford is supplanted as starter that he’ll be dropped completely from the plans and that third-teamer T’Quan Roberson is a candidate for backup duty.
Franklin’s reluctance Tuesday to name a starter shows he wants to make sure Clifford can accept whatever decision is made. Clifford, who has one year of eligibility remaining, also has a brother, Liam, who will be a freshman receiver at Penn State in 2021.
This situation is different than other potential QB controversies. It’s one thing to go into a season with a couple of options and both get a chance in the first couple (non-conference) games before somebody wins the job.
If Franklin goes to Levis, who has two years left after this one, and it works out, it could effectively end Clifford’s career at Penn State.
The transfer portal for quarterbacks has a separate entrance — a revolving door. A quarterback change now — while warranted and needed — still has an effect on the leadership and chemistry on the team.
And the way Franklin’s offense insists on running its quarterbacks — who are averaging 19.5 carries per game (you read that right) during this dreadful 0-4 start — injuries are a play away.
So it’s different than switching the right guard.
Franklin has done a lot wrong so far this year, but the patience he’s shown with his starting quarterback is not one of them.
Maybe because he was a quarterback himself he knows that switching quarterbacks is more than a substitution. It’s a long-term decision.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.