STATE COLLEGE — Penn State didn’t have a scholarship quarterback at its walk-through Friday because of a virus that ravaged the roster throughout the week.
Sean Clifford, Christian Veilleux and Ta’Quan Roberson all missed practice because they were affected by the virus, which was not related to COVID-19.
Coach James Franklin didn’t know who he would start at quarterback against Rutgers less than an hour before Saturday’s kickoff.
Clifford started, but he was ailing and went to the locker room late in the first quarter. Veilleux replaced him and in his first career appearance provided tonic for the Nittany Lions in their 28-0 victory over the Scarlet Knights at Beaver Stadium.
A freshman from Ottawa, Ontario, Veilleux completed 15-of-23 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns. He played with composure and without a turnover.
“We weren’t sure if Christian was gonna go (Friday) night,” Franklin said. “I’m sitting in a hallway (Saturday morning at the team hotel). They’re all going over to get temperatures (taken) to see if they can get cleared. And it’s like, ‘Veilleux’s cleared.’ ”
Franklin mimicked his reaction to that news Saturday morning by pumping his fist at his postgame press conference.
The 6-4, 202-pound Veilleux had been behind Roberson until recent weeks. He was rated a four-star prospect by one recruiting service, even though his final year at the Bullis School in Maryland was canceled because of the pandemic.
He connected with Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington and fellow Canadian Malick Meiga on touchdown passes of 8, 17 and 67 yards. He was not available for postgame interviews.
“He just keeps getting better,” Franklin said. “I was proud of him. He was very poised today, made some plays with his legs, made some big-time throws, made some checks. It’s something to build on.”
Roberson, however, was the quarterback who replaced an injured Clifford on Oct. 9 at Iowa. He was unsteady and completed 7of-21 passes for 34 yards with two interceptions in the 23-20 loss.
Franklin was asked why he played Roberson ahead of Veilleux at Iowa.
“Ta’Quan has been in the program longer,” he said, “and it was pretty obvious to everybody that he gave us the best chance at that stage to win. After the way Veilleux played today, I get the question. I understand it totally.”
Dotson caught three passes for 52 yards and the touchdown after he was hit by the virus. He didn’t know until Friday night whether he would play on Senior Day, which he said was his final appearance at Beaver Stadium.
He was impressed by Veilleux’s performance in his first college football game, but not surprised.
“He was very poised,” Dotson said. “He never seemed to get rattled at any point in the game. He stayed calm and made the right reads. He had a tremendous game. It was everything and more than you could ask for in a freshman quarterback.”
Penn State (4-4 Big Ten, 7-4) scored more than three touchdowns on offense in a Big Ten game for the first time this season. The Lions struggled until late in the second quarter when they started a drive at their 33-yard line.
Veilleux completed all three of his passes in the drive for 34 yards, including the 8-yarder to Dotson in the right corner of the end zone.
In the third quarter, he threw touchdown passes to Washington and Meiga in a span of 2:01 to put the Lions ahead 21-0. Keyvone Lee ran 7 yards for a fourth-quarter score.
The rest was left to the defense, which limited Rutgers (2-6, 5-6) to 160 total yards and one trip past midfield. It’s the first time Penn State has posted two Big Ten shutouts in a season.
Arnold Ebiketie had a sack, a forced fumble and two quarterback hurries on a day when the defense was missing linebacker Curtis Jacobs because of the virus.
“We knew they couldn’t run the ball,” Ebiketie said. “They couldn’t pass the ball. We continued to get stops. As the game went on, there was no way they were getting in the end zone. It felt great to be able to get that shutout.”
The day, however, belonged to Veilleux, who also rushed for 36 yards. He received several pats on the back from Clifford, who stood on the sideline in street clothes in the second half.
“When you look at Christian, you don’t see any fear or any sight of backing down or anything like that,” Dotson said. “He’s been ready for the moment ever since he came here. He’s been practicing like it and playing like it. He finally got to show you guys the talent that he has.”
Source: Berkshire mont