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Sean Clifford, Penn State Offense Expecting Positive Growth To Continue Entering White Out

No. 10 Penn State football’s offense didn’t have the most inspiring start to its 2021 campaign.

Against a stout Wisconsin defense at Camp Randall Stadium, Mike Yurcich’s unit offered just 43 yards, one first down, and zero points in the first half. Since halftime of the season opener, however, the group has shown only signs of improvement.

Yurcich’s quick adjustments were on full display against the Badgers in the final 30 minutes of play, as Penn State’s opening drive of the second half included four completions on four quick plays that spanned 86 yards. The final play of the opening drive was a 49-yard touchdown to stud wideout Jahan Dotson, who would describe his new offensive coordinator as a “football mastermind” later that afternoon.

The Nittany Lions’ offensive execution was hardly perfect against the Badgers, as they’d score just one other touchdown on the day and finish with 297 total yards — a mark that rarely is enough to win in today’s brand of college football.

However, that all comes with the fact that this was Yurcich’s first game as Penn State’s play-caller, and it came against one of the top defensive teams in the conference. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions did exactly what was expected of them in week two, as they put up 44 points and 493 total yards at the home opener against Ball State. Several offensive weapons shined against an inferior opponent, and a bit more confidence came for the group ahead of the biggest home game of the year.

Entering the White Out against No. 22 Auburn this Saturday, James Franklin isn’t completely satisfied with his offense up to this point. However, he’s pleased with the progress it’s already shown.

“I think we can be more consistent there. I think we can be more explosive,” Franklin said. “There are also some plays that we have missed, whether it’s a missed read or overthrew a ball a little bit or maybe a different call. It’s a combination of factors of execution.

“But I think, for where we are in the season, if we just continue to get better and continue to take strides in really every area, running the ball, protection, explosive plays, I think we’ll like where we are. Going to have to do that on Saturday.”

As Auburn rolls into Happy Valley Saturday night, it brings a defense that has yet to face an opponent of Penn State’s caliber. With dominant victories over Akron and Alabama State under their belt, the Tigers haven’t necessarily been tested yet. In 2020, the group allowed an average of 242.6 yards through the air.

The team’s defense also forced 13 total turnovers over the course of 2020, a stat that Penn State was all too familiar with back in 2020. However, the Nittany Lions have yet to commit any this season.

Redshirt senior Sean Clifford threw nine interceptions in 2020, but the veteran signal-caller has put a new point of emphasis on protecting the ball this season.

“When we were losing games [last year], I was averaging two or three interceptions,” Clifford said. “It’s more just talking about it. It’s really undervalued how important it is just to talk about the ball being the program and the importance of securing it…It’s communication and just working at it every day.”

Outside of limiting turnovers, Clifford feels “extremely confident” in being more efficient in the pocket. He noted that his ability to recognize coverages and checking down when he needs to has improved immensely through the first two weeks of the season.

The stats back up the quarterback well in this respect, as he boasts a completion percentage of 62.9% thus far and has notably looked more comfortable in the pocket. Clifford has scrambled when needed and hasn’t had any major plays in which the Nittany Lions are forced to take a huge loss. The quarterback’s ability to take what the defense gives him was most on display last week against the Cardinals, as he had rushes of 16 and 43 yards.

Now starting in his second career full-stadium White Out, Clifford leads an offense that boasts stars in speedy receiver Dotson and running back Noah Cain, among others. Along with that, he joins forces with an offensive coordinator who’s already made a notable difference for a group that was, for much of 2020, brutally inconsistent.

As Clifford’s confidence grows, the Nittany Lions will get a chance to prove their offense is the real deal Saturday night against their first regular-season SEC opponent since 2011.

“I haven’t played Auburn yet, but I can see on tape that they have guys that are super athletic and physical, and they play hard-nosed football,” Clifford said. “But at the same time, we’re excited to play our game. That’s what we pride ourselves on, being blue-collar and physical football players…We’re excited to keep working throughout the week to be prepared for Saturday.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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