Welcome to one of the most unique things you’ll find on the Penn State football beat — our point-counterpoint columns. This weekly component, which is not done by any other outlet, started a few years ago at the Altoona Mirror with Cory Giger and Neil Rudel, who has covered the Nittany Lions for more than 40 years. We’re happy to say that the point-counterpoint will continue, thanks to an agreement between Nittany Sports Now and the Altoona Mirror to share the content.
This week’s question: Do you treat the QB position differently when it comes to making a change?
Giger: Nay: Coaches shouldn’t treat QBs with kid gloves
There’s no I in team. There’s also no QB in team.
No one is above the entire team.
If one player is messing up so badly that he’s a huge reason why a team is losing games, then that player has to be benched.
Even if it’s the quarterback.
OK, so most everyone agrees that not only will Sean Clifford be benched in favor of Will Levis this week, but also that it’s the right thing to do for Penn State.
What Neil and I are discussing today is whether making a change at quarterback is a bigger decision than, say, making a change at linebacker or safety.
The answer is obviously yes. The quarterback, as we all know, is the most important position in sports.
But I believe there’s a difference between placing so much importance on the quarterback position and placing so much importance on the person playing quarterback.
In a lot of games, it can become clear that the quarterback is not playing well and is hurting the team. So many coaches, out of an unfounded fear of creating some kind of controversy, wind up being all too willing to sacrifice the game and sacrifice everything that everyone on the team has worked so hard for just to spare one guy’s feelings.
If a starting QB gets pulled, he needs to pull up his big boy pants and understand why: That he wasn’t good enough that day.
Coaches ask every single other player on the field to accept that responsibility. Every one.
It’s hypocrisy at the highest level to hold one person above everyone else on the team. But it happens all the time in football with the quarterback.
If a linebacker misses a bunch of big tackles, he’s gonna get benched.
If a cornerback gets burned on a bunch of big passes, he’s gonna get benched.
What does it tell those guys, and everyone else on the team, that the quarterback will stay in the game even if he’s killing the team with bad interceptions or fumbles?
It tells those guys that the rules that apply to them don’t apply to the quarterback. That they have to compete like crazy to keep their starting job, but if the quarterback keeps messing up in a game, he’s immune to it because the coach doesn’t want to — gasp! — start the dreaded QB controversy.
So what if there’s a quarterback decision to be made every week. Seriously. So what.
We’ve all been told forever that that’s a terrible thing. That you’ll shatter the confidence of the starting quarterback.
Hey, if you’ve listened to Clifford talk in recent weeks, a lot of his words have sounded more like arrogance than confidence.
“If you’re not motivated after two losses when your back is against the wall, I don’t want you here,” Clifford said after the loss to Ohio State. “I’m not gonna go like that. … That’s not how I operate, that’s not how the people around me operate.”
OK, so maybe the people around you don’t operate well when you’re throwing terrible passes that are getting picked off and leading to big deficits, and ultimately losses.
Sometimes quarterbacks need to be brought back to reality and humbled a bit, instead of thinking their job is safe no matter what.
Just like every other player on the team.
Cory Giger is editor of NittanySportsNow.com and host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 3-4 on WRTA. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Rudel: Yea: There’s lots to consider when benching starting 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.
Neil Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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