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Giger Counters: There’s no decision to be made. Levis has to be the starting QB

Photo by Penn State Athletics

The Sean Clifford era is over. It has to be. That’s a shame for the young man, who is a good leader and a respected member of the team.

But Clifford’s time as the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback needs to come to an end.

And it will at some point this week, when James Franklin decides to make the final call. We may have to play the silly waiting game all week as Franklin tries to keep Kirk Ferentz and Iowa guessing, but there should be no guess work involved.

Clifford lost the job, and that’s all there is to it.

This quote from Franklin was the most telling after the game Saturday:

“It’s hard to get into a rhythm, hard to get in a groove, it’s hard to call (plays) when you don’t have the confidence you’re not gonna turn the ball over,” Franklin said.

Through 3 1/2 games, Clifford was a turnover machine. He kept throwing costly interceptions that crushed the team, and his fumble that led to a scoop and score Saturday was really, really bad.

All of it reminded us over and over again of this motto within the PSU team:

“The ball is the program.”

When you can’t trust your quarterback with the ball, then that guy can no longer be your quarterback.

Will Levis did enough in his two-plus quarters to warrant starting next week. And at 0-4, there’s really no need sustaining any kind of quarterback controversy.

What would be the point?

Levis needs to have the rest of this season to see what he can do.

Now, can Levis do enough? That’s the big question.

Levis did a solid job Saturday and deserves a lot of credit for his poise under pressure.

But Levis was just 14-of-31 against a bad Nebraska defense, throwing for 219 yards, with 74 of those coming on one busted play to tight end Pat Freiermuth.

Levis also ran well, gaining 61 yards on 18 carries.

While he made some nice throws, he also made some throws that didn’t give his receivers much chance to catch the ball. Franklin pointed that out after the game, when he refused to name a starter for next week.

“We’re not gonna name a starting quarterback right after a game before discussing it as a staff and evaluating the tape and watching the tape,” Franklin said.

We can feel good about how Levis played simply because he didn’t turn the ball over. And really, that’s what all of this is about right now.

At his best, Will Levis is probably not as good as Sean Clifford at his best.

But at his worst, Levis can’t possibly be any worse than Clifford has been this season. Right?

Clifford’s poor play, poor throws and poor decisions are a huge reason the Lions are 0-4. He has put the team in gigantic holes with early mistakes, and with the defense also playing poorly early, the Lions have been playing catch up the entire season.

Levis has to play Iowa next week. That will not be easy, because Ferentz usually comes up with a good defensive game plan against PSU.

We will find out a lot more about what kind of quarterback Levis is or is not next week.

Can he make the kind of throws it takes to beat a good defense? Can he stay in the pocket and let plays develop, as opposed to taking off and running as his first instinct when pressure comes?

Can Levis stay healthy?

That’s got to be a big concern given the number of hits he will take. He wants to run the ball and is good at it, but he runs in the middle of the field and is frequently getting hit.

Short of Levis getting hurt or too banged up to play, Franklin needs to go ahead and make the call that Levis will be the starter for the rest of the season.

The team doesn’t need some week-to-week QB controversy, and Franklin, as a former quarterback himself, understands that.

The Sean Clifford era is over.

The Will Levis era has begun.

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Eric Reinke

    November 14, 2020 at 7:08 pm

    Wow, it’s really come to this? One of the places you thought this team would be solid was QB with Clifford. Now, a change has to be made. Even with Levis, this team is headed to a historically bad season. We all want 2020 to be over, now one of our escapes from this year, PSU Football, will be a sorrowful reminder.

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