Week 5 scouting report | Penn State

Who starts at QB for the Nittany Lions is still unclear.


Katie Goodale

Iowa QB Nate Stanley throws a pass during the Iowa football vs. Penn State game in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 17-12.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

After he backed up star Trace McSorley, Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford had started 15 of the last 16 games for the Nittany Lions, including the first four contests this season.

That streak may end on Saturday.

In the second quarter of Penn State’s game against Nebraska, with the Nittany Lions already trailing the Cornhuskers 24-3, head coach James Franklin benched Clifford. On his final play on the turf Saturday, Clifford fumbled while being sacked by Cornhusker safety Deontai Williams. Williams picked up the ball and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.

In came sophomore Will Levis.

Levis led a commendable comeback effort. Penn State out-scored Nebraska 20-6 while he was under center. But it wasn’t enough as the Nittany Lions came up short, 30-23, and fell to 0-4 on the season.

Levis provided a spark to Penn State’s offense as soon as he entered the game, on his first drive, Levis led the Nittany Lions on a long 13-play, 52-yard drive ending in a field goal.

In total, Levis threw for 219 yards and completed 14-of-31 pass attempts. The Madison, Connecticut, native did not throw any touchdowns or interceptions in just under three quarters of action.

One of Levis’ completions against Nebraska showed that the redshirt junior has all the physical skills necessary to lead Penn State.

With 10:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Nittany Lions’ quarterback spun out of a potential Garrett Nelson sack and unleashed a pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth. The ball traveled over 40 yards in the air, thrown from Penn State’s 25 yard-line and caught at the Nebraska 34. Feiermuth caught the pass in stride but was tracked down at the two yard-line.

After a sack brought the Nittany Lions back to the five yard-line on first-and-goal, Penn State running back Devyn Ford ran it in on the next snap. That touchdown and the subsequent extra point closed the gap to 30-23.

RELATED: Iowa football notebook: Benson, Campbell likely to split time at middle linebacker, Hawkeyes preparing for Clifford to start

Penn State’s rushing attack is dangerous. Along with Ford’s score, fellow running back Keyvone Lee added the Nittany Lions’ first touchdown of last week’s game with just under eight minutes left in the third quarter. Lee took the handoff from Levis on a second-down play and toasted the ball up the middle going untouched into the end zone from 31 yards out.

Penn State ran the ball by committee against Nebraska. Apart from Ford, who had 66 yards on 16 carries, and Lee, who totaled 49 yards on eight attempts, a third running back, Caziah Holmes totaled 50 yards on four carries.

Both quarterbacks were valuable parts of the rushing attack, too. Before he was pulled, Clifford ran six times for 19 yards and, his in-game successor, Levis carried the ball the most of any Penn State player. Levis ran it 18 times for 61 yards.

This season, Penn State is averaging nearly 160 rushing yards per game and has four touchdowns on the ground this year.

If the Hawkeyes stops the run and make Levis or Clifford beat them — and takes advantage of a defense allowing 34.8 points per game — Iowa a great chance to win their third game in a row and move to 3-2 on the season.