Sean Clifford Solidifies His Starting Position At 2022 Blue-White Game
In February, Penn State football head coach James Franklin announced that Sean Clifford as Penn State’s returning starter for 2022. When Clifford publicized his decision to return for a sixth season, it was met with a polarizing response.
At the Nittany Lions’ 2022 Blue-White game, Clifford established himself as the team’s clear best option at quarterback. His veteran poise and confident decision-making were sharply contrasted by his younger counterparts’ shakier performances.
Last season, after his promotion to starter against Rutgers on late notice, Christian Veilleux impressed fans with his acumen through the air and on the ground. Drew Allar, incoming true freshman quarterback, has similarly generated significant buzz as a result of his five-star status and ranking as the nation’s No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2022.
With Clifford assuming the first-team responsibilities at the Nittany Lions’ 2022 spring exhibition, Veilleux and Allar slotted in at backup roles.
Clifford finished his relatively light day completing four-of-seven passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Veilleux was 5-of-14 for 75 yards and Allar was 6-of-14 for 61 yards. Allar also threw a pair of interceptions, one on a bad juggle from wide receiver Omari Evans and another on a bad throw directly to linebacker Dominic DeLuca.
Where Clifford seemed comfortable, Veilleux and Allar appeared noticeably unsteady. Though he did not show much flash in his seven passes, Clifford made precise decisions and didn’t force anything. Conversely, Veilleux overthrew a handful of receivers and Allar seemed raw, despite an obvious wealth of arm talent.
Of course, the Blue-White Game is merely a larger scale practice session, so it would be a mistake to read too far into the performances of any individual player. But even still, the trends on display indicate the reason behind the decision to start Clifford.
In his postgame comments, head coach James Franklin described this past spring session as Clifford’s best, a sentiment that was echoed by the quarterback as well. Citing feedback from defensive coaches, his leadership ability with the younger quarterbacks, and advanced stats, Franklin made it clear the coaching staff feels confident in Clifford as they approach the 2022 season.
“You talk about his interception ratio,” Franklin said about Clifford’s offseason. “You talk about his completion percentage. You talk about his explosive play percentage. We track it all. We track drop percentage, adjusted drop percentage– all these different things…I thought he was tremendous.”
Both Franklin and Clifford highlighted the sixth-year senior’s experience as a major factor in his control of the passing game. Clifford explained the importance of that experience, when offering a positive progress report on his competitors: Veilleux, Allar, and Beau Pribula.
“They’re all talented,” Clifford said in his postgame remarks. “It’s not that they don’t know, it’s just that they haven’t [taken] what you get from the classroom, the meeting room, to the field.”
Clifford’s experience will likely only be enhanced by the fact that the 2022 season will mark the first time he plays under a returning offensive coordinator.
“[I have] a second year in the system confidence,” Clifford said. “I feel like I’ve seen every look in this offense specifically. I know the terminology like it’s the back of my hand.”
“We’ve made a lot of strides,” Clifford continued. “More strides than I made in a long time, just because of that second year in the offense.”
In addition to the vast difference in game experience, Franklin mentioned that Clifford outpaced the team’s other quarterbacks in reps this spring.
Reflecting on last season, Clifford pinpointed “consistency” as his biggest struggle and the largest point of emphasis throughout this spring practice session.
“Consistency was the number one thing just because last year, I felt fantastic going through the first half of the season until…I got injured,” Clifford said. “I wasn’t coming out and being the same guy.”
“It’s just…making sure that I’m coming in every single day with a plan the same way that I have for the last 100 years I’ve been here,” Clifford continued, with a smile.
Last season, Clifford captained the Nittany Lions to the No. 4 rank in the country. Heading into Penn State’s top four matchup against Iowa, Clifford was playing some of the best football of his career.
Through the first five games of the season, Clifford recorded 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions. His 67.3% completion percentage and 1,336 passing yards were an instrumental part in the team’s success. When he eventually succumbed to an injury against Iowa, the entire offense stagnated and the repercussions were obvious later in the year.
“I’m not trying to make excuses, don’t get me wrong,” Clifford said about the injury. “I’m just being transparent… I took a step back in the back end of the year and I can’t do that. I need to be consistent all the way through.”
Clifford expects himself to continue improving as the offseason progresses, saying he “just can’t be complacent” and in reference to his status as a team veteran, asking “can Tom Brady still learn things in year 20?”
Despite his weaknesses, Clifford’s experience makes him uniquely situated to lead Penn State’s offense in its 2022 campaign. His performance in the Blue-White Game only further instantiated his comparative advantage. However, if Clifford can make good on his aspirations to improve his consistency, his management of the game could pay even stronger dividends than fans may expect.
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About the Author
Nittany Lions old and new have received new jersey numbers ahead of the 2022 season.