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Freshman Christian Veilleux Revives Penn State's Offense Vs. Rutgers

The quarterback throws three touchdown passes, and the defense delivers its second shutout this season.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Freshman quarterback Christian Veilleux threw three touchdown passes in his college debut, energizing a sapped Penn State offense to a 28-0 victory over Rutgers on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

Veilleux entered the game after starter Sean Clifford was injured in the first quarter, turning around an offense that produced 32 yards and one first down on its first four possessions.

Penn State's defense, meanwhile, delivered its second Big Ten shutout of the season, a first since the team joined the conference in 1993.

Rapid reaction from Beaver Stadium

How Christian Veilleux changed the game

Veilleux was Penn State's No. 1 quarterback during pregame warmups, the first suggestion that something was wrong. The Big Ten Network reported that Clifford was receiving IV fluids pregame to treat a midweek illness that affected the team.

Clifford clearly was off, going 2-for-8 passing, missing open receivers and looking generally frantic. After being trip-sacked in the first quarter, Clifford appeared to land on the football and left the game favoring his upper right side. Veilleux immediately began talking with offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.

Though he enrolled last winter and had a full preseason, Veilleux still hadn't played in nearly two years. Veilleux last threw a pass in a live game in November 2019 at The Bullis School in Maryland. He did not play in 2020, as the school canceled its season because of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, Veilleux looked quite sharp. He rushed for 14 yards on his first snap and threw three touchdown passes, including two on back-to-back series in the third quarter.

Veilleux finished 15 for 24 for 235 yards.

Penn State's tattered lineup

Penn State's starting lineup took a hit even before Clifford left in the first quarter. The Lions began the game without four starters and several key reserves, notably on offense.

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Offensive linemen Rasheed Walker and Mike Miranda did not play, and right tackle Caedan Wallace left the game in the first quarter. As a result, Penn State played true freshman Landon Tengwall at left tackle, and the shuffled line included sixth-man Bryce Effner at right tackle and reserve Fatorma Mulbah at guard.

The quarterback situation was stressed as well. Ta'Quan Roberson was not in uniform, leaving Veilleux as the only scholarship quarterback once Clifford left the game. Walk-on Mason Stahl was the No. 2.

Defensively, linebacker Curtis Jacobs was out, pressing safety Jonathan Sutherland and linebacker Charlie Katshir into more defensive action.

The Canadian connection

Veilleux, originally from Ottawa, found a wide-open Malick Meiga (Saint Jerome, Quebec) wide open in the third quarter. Meiga turned the play into a 67-yard score, Penn State's third-longest touchdown pass of the season.

Head coach James Franklin has mentioned Meiga's potential several times this season, recently praising the redshirt freshman's breakaway potential.

"He has a chance, the rest of the season and long-term, to be that type of home-run threat for us that can really take the top off the coverage," Franklin said.

Did you notice?

Franklin improved to 8-0 against Rutgers, and his teams have outscored the Scarlet Knights 213-39.

After Clifford threw incompletions on his last four passes, Veilleux completed five of his first seven.

The Lions rushed for 149 yards on 42 carries, with Veilleux gaining 36 on 10 carries.

Jaquan Brisker and Arnold Ebiketie have been the signature players of Penn State's defense this season. So it was fitting that they combined on a fourth-and-goal sack of Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral in the fourth quarter. The play secured Penn State's 14 red-zone stop of the season.

Penn State recognized 32 seniors before the game, including former players Journey Brown and Jordan Miner. Both players ended their careers because of medical retirements.