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Giger: Yurcich a winning lottery ticket for Clifford, but it’s up to QB to cash in

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Sean Clifford

Sean Clifford was handed a winning lottery ticket a few weeks ago, and these are his jackpot figures: M-I-K-E-Y-U-R-C-I-C-H.

Now, it’s up to Clifford to do the work of cashing in that ticket, rather than misplacing it somewhere over the next 10 months.

Listening to Yurcich during his introductory press conference Tuesday, it’s clear that Penn State’s new offensive coordinator knows exactly what he wants to do with his offense.

Score.

Score.

And score some more.

Yurcich wants to run a fast-paced, high-octane offense that takes a bunch of deep shots down the field, takes advantage of its weapons and allows the quarterback to put up some massive numbers.

These are the three things he wants his offense to be:

1: Tough

2: Smart

3: Skilled

And these are the three things he believes can make an offense highly successful:

1: Players

2: Formations

3: Plays

Oh, and he’s going to put all of that together while running at a fast tempo.

“Tempo has been something that’s really helped us as an offense,” Yurcich said. “And when you’re dealing with trying to run an offense that has tempo in it, the question that you asked was why tempo, what does it do for you? It can harm you if you’re not careful and don’t know what you’re doing.

“But the things that are good about tempo are you try to minimize the amount of communication that the defense can have in between snaps, because there’s plenty of that — based on your alignments, based on where the back is, based on whether three by one, based on where the ball is in the middle of field. So you’re trying to really handcuff them into minimizing how much information they can communicate in between each plays from position to position. They got to get their strength, they got to get their call, and so you’re trying to minimize that. You’re trying to exhaust them, OK, you’re trying to wear them out and get them huffing and puffing.”

Where all of this comes back to Clifford: After a tough junior season, the two-year starting quarterback now finds himself with a superstar offensive coordinator and with the opportunity to turn himself into a great college quarterback, rather than an average one, which is what he’s been the past two years.

We can talk all day long about how terrific Yurcich’s offense has been in the past and could be at Penn State. But if Clifford doesn’t get the job done, the Nittany Lions are going to stall. That’s just all there is to it.

The quarterback threw for 1,883 yards with 16 TDs and nine interceptions last year, completing just 60.6 percent of his passes. Those numbers simply will not produce the kind of success everyone is expecting from a Yurcich offense going forward.

Yurcich will give Clifford the tools and the plays to make a giant splash, and the quarterback will have good receivers (Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington) and good running backs (Noah Cain, Devyn Ford, Keyvone Lee) to cash in offensively.

Can Clifford do that? Can he become a great college quarterback and turn himself into a good NFL prospect?

We’ll see.

He’s got that lottery ticket in his hand, but if he’s gonna throw a bunch of interceptions and try to do too much, as he did the first half of the 2020 season, then the potential winnings will go to waste.

Yurcich was asked about Clifford on Tuesday and if he has the tools to be a starter in this offense. And the new offensive coordinator did the right thing by keeping his views to himself.

There’s just no reason, at this stage, for Yurcich to make judgments or public statements on Clifford before he can even get him out on the practice field this spring.

“My comments on any individual player, my opinions of them, I’m not going to give them, whether it’s on Sean or anybody up front or any receivers right now,” Yurcich said. “I think it’s best for me to approach this very non-judgmental, especially with media.

“I think it’s fair for me to go through spring practice and then give you an assessment of where those guys are at at that time. I don’t want to prejudge or talk about any one player specifically with you guys at this point.”

Clifford and the Penn State offense didn’t get to have spring practice last year with new coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. And it showed. The offense just wasn’t in sync early on in the season, and Clifford was far too erratic with his passes, which probably led to Ciarrocca losing a lot of confidence in him.

Yurcich said you can’t get those reps back that a player would take in the spring, and he also experienced that last year in his lone season at Texas.

“The reps are very precious, and they’re few and far between,” Yurcich said. “And you have to maximize each rep that you get — whether it’s a mental rep in a meeting, which we’ve learned are so vital nowadays, especially in the day of Zoom, being able to meet virtually — how important it is from the mental side all the way to the physical (part).”

James Franklin talks all the time about explosive plays being key for an offense, and Yurcich clearly is on the same page there.

“Explosions are huge in this day and age as far as what correlates to wins,” he said.

Minimizing turnovers and making sure the opposing offense always has a long field are two other main goals for Yurcich in his offense.

By the way, Yurcich answered two burning questions when he said he does like to have the QB go under center at times because it does have advantages in some situations. Also, he will line someone up as a fullback on occasion, or more precisely, it likely will be a tight end who’s in the backfield in a typical fullback spot.

He did make this part clear early: “It’s not gonna be a Mike Yurcich offense. It’s gonna be a Penn State offense.”

He won’t try to fit square pegs into round holes by forcing PSU’s players into his system if the fit isn’t right.

Still, the fit does seem right with the receivers and running backs the Lions have coming back.

So, again, it comes down to whether Clifford can pull all of this off and turn Penn State’s offense into an elite scoring machine.

The ball — and the lottery ticket — are in his hands.

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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