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One of the biggest offseason storylines for Penn State finally caught up to them in Week 6. With starting quarterback Sean Clifford being knocked out of the game by the Iowa Hawkeyes midway through the second quarter, the biggest concern about the experience behind the starting quarterback was put on full display at the worst possible time.
Ta’Quan Roberson came off the sideline to relieve the injured Clifford, who returned to the Penn State sideline in street clothes in the second half after an early exit to the team’s locker room in the second quarter. Roberson inherited a 17-10 lead (it was 17-3 when Clifford made his way to the locker room, but Iowa had the football and scored before Roberson entered the game), and Penn State’s offense never looked the same for the rest of the game.
Roberson was unable to get Penn State out of its own side of the field, routinely backed up against his own goal line for much of the game, and the rhythm was nowhere to be found with a plethora of false start penalties in a rocking Kinnick Stadium.
It is unfair to go all-in on criticizing the play of Roberson, as he clearly put on display the kind of miscues you expect a freshman to make with poor decision-making and inaccurate passing against a defense like Iowa’s. It is an unenvious position to be thrust into.
But the blame for the situation does fall back on James Franklin and the entire coaching staff for not having a more reliable option ready to go behind Clifford if and when needed. When Will Levis opted to enter the transfer portal and eventually make his way to Kentucky, Penn State was an obvious candidate to tap the transfer portal for a backup quarterback option to bring some experience behind Clifford.
And to Penn State’s credit, they did appear to be in the mix for LSU transfer quarterback TJ Finley, who would have appeared to be the perfect fit for what Penn State was in need of. But Finley instead decided to transfer to another SEC school, the Auburn Tigers. It’s not Penn State’s fault Finely decided to go to another SEC school. But not being able to come up with another option is one that ultimately may have cost Penn State on Saturday.
But there is no guarantee a transfer option would have fared any better. Any experience may have been more favorable to Penn State against Iowa than what played out with Roberson, but that could just be mere speculation and benefitting from the use of hindsight from Week 6.
Could Saturday’s result have been avoided? Sure, probably. Should Penn State have made a stronger push to secure a backup quarterback in the transfer portal? It’s easy to pinpoint this game and say “absolutely.”
Any argument that Penn State would be fine without adding a transfer option after watching what unfolded against Iowa would be difficult to stand behind. But there are other reasons Penn State lost to Iowa too, including a lack of a running game against a good defense.
It’s not quite back to the drawing board for Penn State after the minor setback, but a season that was described as being “Sean Clifford or bust” continues to be the theme of the fall for the Nittany Lions.