STATE COLLEGE – Penn State football fans received an early look at the future.
Freshman quarterback Christian Veilleux, playing in relief of Nittany Lions starter Sean Clifford, passed for 235 yards and three touchdowns to lead Penn State to a 28-0 senior day win against Rutgers in the 2021 home finale at Beaver Stadium.
Clifford exited the game in the second quarter with an illness, setting Veilleux up for his first collegiate action since he joined the program as part of Penn State’s 2021 recruiting class.
“To be honest, I wasn’t surprised,” Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie said of Veilleux.
“I knew the kid was talented. So when his number got called, I had faith in him. I had trust in him. I definitely wasn’t surprised he came out here and played the way he did.”
Veilleux connected on 15 of his 24 pass attempts.
Penn State (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) coach James Franklin postgame said his team was without 35 players at some point this week because of a flu outbreak that cloaked the program. He said 21 players didn’t play as a result, and 14 players had the flu but played through it.
“Thursday, it looked like a hospital ward in there,” Franklin said postgame. “There were IVs everywhere. Friday was the same way. We didn’t have a scholarship quarterback at Friday’s practice. We weren’t sure what was going to happen.”
Heading into Friday night, Franklin said he was unsure if Veilleux would play this weekend because of the illness.
Veilleux’s first collegiate completion came in the form of a 15-yard connection to wide receiver Parker Washington.
He recorded his first collegiate touchdown later in the quarter when he threw an 8-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Jahan Dotson, who also battled the flu last week.
The touchdown marked the first from a Penn State freshman quarterback since former Nittany Lions signal-caller Christian Hackenberg recorded one against Wisconsin in 2013.
The highlight of Veilleux’s banner day came late in the third quarter as Penn State’s offense set up for second-and-7 from its 33-yard line.
Veilleux collected the snap from center Juice Scruggs and rolled to the left as wide receiver Malick Meiga headed up field before settling down on his route. Veilleux then tossed the football to Meiga, who corralled it at Rutgers’ 49-yard line and ran untouched into the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown.
The catch was Meiga’s third of the season.
“I want to give a big shout-out to Christian Veilleux,” Dotson said. “He stepped in tremendously. It’s a tough job coming out here and playing in front of a lot of people (in your) freshman year. I know it was tough for me, so I couldn’t imagine being in his shoes as the quarterback.”
Penn State running back Keyvone Lee received the start and ended with a team-high 41 yards and one touchdown.
Rutgers found little offensive success against the Penn State defense.
The Scarlet Knights were held to 165 yards and 10 first downs. They went 4-for-15 on third-down attempts as Adam Korsak punted 10 times. Three Rutgers quarterbacks played. Noah Vedral received the start and was 12 of 23 passing for 91 yards.
Scarlet Knight running backs didn’t fare much better. The unit combined for 72 yards on 31 carries as Avery Young was the team’s leading rusher with 20 yards.
Penn State’s defense extended its turnover streak to 17 games with a fourth-quarter interception by safety Jonathan Sutherland.
The Nittany Lions close out the regular season next week at Michigan State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten).
“The defense played lights out again,” Franklin said. “(It’s) the first time in program history we’ve held two Big Ten opponents to shutouts in the same season, so a lot of good things. A lot of things to correct, as well. Hopefully, we’ll get everybody back for next week because we’re going to need it on the road against a great opponent.”