James Franklin says Penn State making progress on the flu front

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Penn State coach James Franklin reacts during the team's NCAA college football game against Rutgers in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Penn State won 28-0. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

After his team's 28-0 victory last Friday against Rutgers, Penn State James Franklin praised his players and assistant coaches effusively for how they handled a trying week in which 35 players on the Nittany Lions roster came down with the flu, prohibiting 21 of them from playing.

With that triumph behind it, the questions prompted by the flu, much like the illness itself, haven't disappeared for Penn State. How might it affect it in Saturday's matchup at Michigan State?

Right now, Franklin is hopeful. In his weekly news conference Tuesday, the eighth-year head coach said most of the ill players are "coming out of it and in a pretty good place," though "a few more" players have become sick.

"It's a little bit of a moving target," Franklin said.

As it concerns specific players, quarterback Sean Clifford is "back to normal" after the flu caused him to miss most of last Saturday's victory, a limited performance that was made possible only because of IV treatments before the game. Offensive lineman Mike Miranda and linebacker Curtis Jacobs are both expected to resume practice. Overall, Franklin believes once his team gets through these final remnants of the flu, it will be as healthy as it has been "in a couple of weeks."

Clifford's return is particularly notable. Last Friday, Franklin and his staff were preparing as if redshirt freshman walk-on Mason Stahl, a Baldwin graduate, would be the starting quarterback, though Clifford and backup Christian Veilleux felt able to play by kickoff. To accommodate Clifford and his weakened voice, though, the Nittany Lions' staff had to create a new, silent cadence at the team hotel the day before the game.

Ultimately, Veilleux stepped into the game late in the first quarter and looked strong, leading Penn State to touchdowns on four of the eight drives he helped pilot. While Franklin is optimistic that the flu will soon be behind his players, he's thankful for those who played through it.

"Everybody had envisioned they were going to be the Michael Jordan flu game," Franklin said. "What, did Michael score 60 points and play his tail off and there was a heck of a story to write? It didn't necessarily play out that way for a lot of our guys that were sick. But I still truly — and I know their teammates do, too — appreciate the effort they tried to give, especially when we felt like we only had one quarterback available for the game."