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Inside Penn State's Week of Illness, IVs and Uncertainty

'That's as much adversity as I've seen a program withstand in one week,' James Franklin said.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Thirty minutes before Saturday's game, Penn State coach James Franklin still didn't have a starting quarterback.

Sean Clifford was getting an IV in the locker room, freshman Christian Veilleux was warming up on the field, and walk-on Mason Stahl was the backup. Actually, as of Friday night, Franklin expected Stahl to start.

That's the kind of week Penn State had, as a campus-wide flu tore through the roster, causing 21 players to miss Saturday's game against Rutgers and 14 more to play through symptoms. The Lions labored through the outbreak, bringing IV machines to Beaver Stadium, to beat the Scarlet Knights 28-0.

Afterward, an apparently healthy Franklin said that he hadn't coached through anything similar in 26 years.

"I'm telling you guys, between the throw up and the IVs, it was an interesting week," Franklin said after the game.

Penn State moved to 7-4, pitching its second Big Ten shutout of the season, in what might have been its most determined performance this fall. The game wasn't pretty — the Lions punted on their first six possessions — but neither was the team's training room and locker room during the week. Or their hotel rooms Friday night.

Franklin said that the flu swept through the team last week, hitting the defense first and offense second. A total of 35 players were sick, including a bunch of starters, leaving the lineup in patchwork straits.

Penn State began the game without two starting offensive linemen, and another left the game in the first quarter. A starting linebacker was out. The team didn't have a scholarship quarterback at Friday's walkthrough.

Players said the training room looked like a hospital, with numerous Lions hooked up to IVs. A staff group text buzzed Friday and Saturday just hoping for good news. It came in small doses.

At the team hotel Saturday morning, Veilleux passed a temperature check and was cleared to play. Franklin, sitting in the hallway waiting for results, cheered. Clifford, meanwhile, returned to his hotel room to sleep.

At the stadium, Clifford and other players received pre-game IVs and skipped warmups. Franklin ultimately chose to start Clifford, who was cleared and whom Franklin thought gave the team the best chance to win.

After four series, it was clear Clifford didn't have it. The quarterback went 2-for-8, the offense converted one first down and Clifford left the game after being tripped on a rush play from behind. Following that series, Clifford returned to the locker room.

"I said, 'Sean, we're gonna go with Veilleux,'" Franklin said. "He goes, 'Yeah, I get it.'"

At one point, Penn State's offense featured true freshmen at quarterback and left tackle (Landon Tengwall), its No. 3 center (Eric Wilson, shifting from guard) and reserve Fatorma Mulbah at guard. Yet somehow, the Lions managed to score four offensive touchdowns for the first time this season.

"Friday we had literally about 20 guys laying in the training room getting IVs," said receiver Jahan Dotson, who caught a touchdown pass. "A lot of guys battled through and were able to play. They literally left it all on the line, coming out when they couldn't do it anymore."

Dotson was among the ill, deciding to play only Friday night. He missed practice time and called it a "mental week" but was determined to play his final game at Beaver Stadium.

Dotson had three catches for 52 yards, grabbing what might have been Veilleux's best pass of the game: an 8-yard throw into the back of the end zone that Dotson called "perfect."

"It wasn't a tough decision," Dotson said. "This is my last time in Beaver Stadium. It was big for me, big for this team. ... I knew the stakes if I didn't play. I knew I wanted to play. I was doing everything possible."

Safety Jaquan Brisker, who played a monster game with nine tackles, said he managed to avoid the illness and nearly cried at playing his second Senior Day at Beaver Stadium. Defensive end Arnold Ebiketie (1.5 tackles for loss) couldn't believe what the training room looked like this week but never once expected that to impact the defense.

And now, Penn State has a week to get healthy before the regular-season finale at Michigan State. Franklin was unsure where the team was headed. But he left Beaver Stadium on Saturday feeling much better about what it had withstood.

"Literally, I've never been through something like this, especially at this point in the season when you're already banged up," Franklin said. "So I just have a ton of respect for our guys and how they handled it. They never flinched and never panicked. Our defense has been playing great all year long.

"I'm really proud of the guys. You know, there's not a whole lot more to say than that. But that's as much adversity as I've seen a program withstand in one week."

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