Should Sean Clifford Play Against Illinois? | Column

Opinion posted October 22, 2021 in CommRadio, Sports by Zech Lambert

With nearly 14 days gone by since Penn State last took the field, the uncertainty of Sean Clifford’s injury status has remained largely unchanged.

While it’s certain Clifford will take the field again at some point this season, when is still up in the air.

With the quarterback partaking in practice on Wednesday, and even before, he may be ready for the team’s upcoming game against Illinois, but even if he is, it begs the question if he should play.

It’s no secret the Fighting Illini aren’t a juggernaut.

Bret Bielema has his squad at a lowly 2-5 on the year with its only two wins coming against Nebraska in Week 0 and UNC Charlotte, who only has one win against a power five school ever.

The Illini don’t particularly excel offensively or defensively, surrendering an average of 428 yards a game to their opponents, while only putting up an average of 18 points per game themselves.

On paper, the Nittany Lions should roll, but with the way the offense looked after Ta’Quan Roberson entered against Iowa, it’s not surprising fans are holding their collective breaths in hopes that Clifford is Saturday’s signal caller.

However fans shouldn’t fret as to who lines up under center, as Penn State can win this game on the strength of its defense and special teams alone, even without strong offense, similar to how Iowa took down the blue and white.

Simply put, field position and suffocating defense should have Penn State cruise to a victory, so why risk injury to Clifford.

Playing Clifford only poses a risk for injury, and with Ohio State looming the following week, the Nittany Lions will surely need him then.

And if fans are worried about Penn State’s playoff hopes getting dashed due to Clifford sitting out and potentially falling to Illinois, I’d contest if this team can’t beat Illinois without Clifford, it won’t be anywhere near the playoffs when the year comes to a close, anyways.

Sure, there was a significant drop off bringing in Roberson, but he has now had two weeks to take first-team reps, and he’s also not entering a hostile environment trying to hold onto a lead against one of the top defensive teams in the country.

Roberson should be much more acquainted and comfortable entering Saturday’s homecoming date with the Illini.

There is no need to risk further injury to Clifford, which would ultimately put a ribbon on the Nittany Lions’ playoff chances.

Instead, let Clifford rest, give him another week to heal, practice and get a feel for being back, rather than rushing him back for a lackluster opponent.

It’s vital to not look past an opponent and look ahead to another, but it’s also more important to look at the big picture and trust the talent of Roberson.

Not to mention, putting confidence in Roberson is important moving forward if Clifford leaves and it’s Roberson who starts next year.

All in all, Penn State should handle Illinois no matter what, and if Clifford is healthy enough to play, a few drives may not be a bad idea, but unless he’s 100%, Clifford should sit in street clothes on the sideline.

Zech Lambert is a fourth-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email