The idle week couldn’t come at a better time for Penn State.
For starters, it gives a number of Nittany Lion players still ailing from their trip to Iowa City time to heal.
Key players — including Penn State’s starting quarterback Sean Clifford, and vocal starting defensive tackle PJ Mustipher — watched a good amount of the loss to Iowa from the sideline after sustaining game-ending injuries.
Secondly, the week off gives Penn State coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich time to figure out what to do if Clifford isn’t ready by the time Penn State hosts Illinois on Oct. 23.
Everything’s good until it isn’t, and Penn State on Saturday quickly found out the root of that phrase.
No. 4 Penn State entered this weekend’s showdown with No. 3 Iowa with national talking heads prematurely claiming the winner will have the inside track on the third College Football Playoff ranking behind Alabama and Georgia.
To be fair, Iowa’s remaining schedule appears more than manageable, as no current AP Top 25 teams are left for the Hawkeyes.
Penn State’s remaining slate is noticeably tougher, with Ohio State (No. 7), Michigan (No. 9) and Michigan State (No. 11) still left for the Nittany Lions.
While Penn State’s defense and offense — outside of a consistent and reliable running game — make the Nittany Lions one of the more impressive teams in the country, anyone who follows the program knew it was a matter of time until the lack of depth at quarterback would haunt the program.
That moment came in Iowa City once Clifford returned to the sideline at the start of the third quarter donning a T-shirt in place of his shoulder pads.
Ta’Quan Roberson, a redshirt sophomore, replaced Clifford late in the second quarter, and he finished the game 7-of-21 passing for 34 yards with two interceptions. Sure, Roberson’s numbers are far from impressive, but Iowa boasts most opportunistic defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision behind 16 interceptions.
I was one of many this season who wondered why we hadn’t seen more of Roberson when Penn State found itself with a comfortable lead in games, and when he did appear, he didn’t do much in the passing game.
Well, if Clifford’s not cleared to return until a later date, Roberson is about to get a crash course of work with Penn State’s first-team offense. After Penn State’s game with Illinois, a road trip to Columbus awaits. Two weeks after Penn State’s visit to Ohio State, Michigan comes to State College.
The work Yurcich has been able to do with Clifford this year is evident. Penn State’s first-year offensive coordinator will now try to work his magic with his young quarterback who before Saturday attempted just eight passes — with four completions — in three years with the program.
Injuries are never timely, but the one to Clifford this week at least gives Penn State some time for him to heal, or for Roberson to cram as much as he can before Illinois visits on Oct. 23 if Clifford still isn’t ready to go.
Hayes covers Penn State for CNHI Sports. CNHI is the parent company of The Daily Item. Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.