QB Will Levis likely to lead No. 12 Penn State against Rutgers
STATE COLLEGE — Getting knocked out of the biggest game of the season was tough for Sean Clifford. Standing on the sideline and watching Penn State’s playoff dreams go up in smoke was even harder.
If the Penn State quarterback has to sit again, he’s prepared to do everything in his power to ensure the Nittany Lions (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten, No. 10 CFP) finish strong against Rutgers and set up his return in a bigger game.
No. 12 Penn State is still in the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl bid but will likely need to beat the Scarlet Knights (2-9, 0-8) without Clifford, who suffered an undisclosed injury against Ohio State.
“It’s going to be a game-time decision,” Clifford said. “That’s on the coaches, but at the same time, I’m prepared to do whatever I need. If it’s play 100 snaps, it’s play 100 snaps. If it’s take zero snaps and be the leader that I need to be, the captain that I need to be, then it’s that. I have full trust in this offense with whoever is running it.”
Enter Will Levis.
After both quarterbacks split reps about evenly at Tuesday’s practice, Penn State coach James Franklin said Levis got most of them Wednesday. Clifford was in sweat pants without his helmet in the portion of the team’s Wednesday practice open to reporters.
Levis completed 6 of 11 passes for 57 yards with an interception in relief of Clifford last week. He added 34 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
While Levis had played in four other games previously, he admitted he felt like he was catching up inside Ohio Stadium.
“The biggest thing for a quarterback running those plays on that level for the first time is just getting those reps, getting that experience and getting comfortable with it,” Levis said. “I was there mentally, knowing what to do, but you’ve still got to feel it out when you get in there and that’s kind of what I think I got a lot out of on Saturday.”
Early in the season Levis endeared himself to his teammates by lowering his shoulder and plowing over defenders in garbage time.
That’s not going to fly anymore.
“The first game, Franklin made the point that when I was running the ball I was being a little bit too physical with it,” Levis said. “I would consider it part of my brand, but I’ve got to figure out or get better at knowing when is the right decision to slide or display that.”
Both teams dealt with defections this week as multiple players who would have likely suited up entered the NCAA’s transfer portal.
Penn State wideout Justin Shorter met with Franklin on Tuesday and is looking for another school. Shorter caught 12 passes for 137 yards this season.
Meanwhile, Rutgers will be without tight end Daevon Robinson and quarterback Artur Sitkowski, who also entered the portal. While Raheem Blackshear opted to redshirt earlier this season when Rutgers fired Chris Ash, he has also entered the portal and is the 12th Scarlet Knight to do so since Ash was sacked in September.
Both Franklin and Rutgers interim coach Nunzio Campanile were diplomatic when asked about the affect the transfer portal can have on teams at this point in the season.
“I understand those things,” Campanile said. “There are probably some other guys that maybe want to explore other options. So my big thing is stay together and build it together. That’s a much better answer, usually, than kind of running to the next opportunity. Kind of look in the mirror, see what can I do to help and what can I do to make the team better and make yourself better.”
Franklin cited former Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki, who in Franklin’s first year lead the team in drops and saw his playing time cut as a result of poor blocking. Gesicki didn’t have the portal as an option and stuck with the Nittany Lions where he became the program’s all-time receptions leader at tight end.
“If we had the transfer portal when Mike Gesicki was here, would it have played out the way it did?,” Franklin said. “I just saw the other day that he caught a touchdown pass with the Miami Dolphins. Awesome.”