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‘I’m a very confident quarterback’: Clifford has high expectations for offense

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Sean Clifford

No one can ever say Sean Clifford lacks for confidence. Penn State’s third-year starting quarterback went through a lot of ups and downs last season, even getting benched for one game, but his confidence never wavered.

“I’m a very confident quarterback with a very confident football team,” Clifford said Saturday during media day at Beaver Stadium.

Now, with another new offensive coordinator in the mix — this one a hired gun brought in to take the PSU offense to the next level — Clifford has big expectations for the upcoming season.

“I expect a lot of points,” Clifford said. “I expect no turnovers, a lot of skilled football players and a lot of points. That’s what we’re gonna harp on all year, making sure that we’re all playing within the system.”

The system is a good one.

No, check that. A great one.

Mike Yurcich’s offenses have put up a ton of points over the years — at Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas — and the same is expected for this Penn State offense.

“He’s got a very good system, it’s been proven to work,” Clifford said.

And of course, whether it works this season will depend primarily on Clifford. All quarterbacks bear a huge burden in their offenses, and in this case, it’s pretty much gonna be Clifford or bust this year for the Nittany Lions.

“I know that there were times last year that I didn’t play up to my expectations,” Clifford said. “I learned from that, and that’s how life goes. You’ve got to move on. When adversity sets in, there’s gonna be things that happen. And I’m not gonna deny what happened last season, but I’m also not gonna harp on it.

“This is 2021. I’m here to get the job done. We are here to win games. That’s the only thing on my mind right now.”

There’s no doubt Clifford is going to be throwing the ball a lot in Yurcich’s offense. And he’ll be taking a lot of shots downfield with deep throws — which are a staple of the offensive scheme.

Clifford said he’s been working on his deep ball, trying to get the right trajectory and such.

Yurcich had high praise for Clifford’s leadership, but also noted the quarterback “can get a lot better.”

“Any quarterback that has his demeanor and attitude and willingness to learn and understands every day that there’s something more to attain, his ceiling is very high,” Yurcich said. “I think he can get a lot better. So that’s my job to help him along and to guide him and to give him the information that he needs and to continue to press upon the things that he has to improve upon and apply pressure where it needs to be in practice.

“Give him difficult looks, allow him to fail and figure it out and then continue to build his confidence up. I think that’s the process of learning. He’s a tremendous leader. Sean’s all about helping this team win. He’s willing to do whatever it takes, so therefore, you just got to try to help him. You have to guide him and help him get where he wants to be and he wants to be great so whatever that takes – detail in meetings, technique work, watching all the film we can with him and getting him prepared for each game plan.”

A big part of Penn State’s offense a year ago was Clifford taking off and running the ball. He was actually the Lions’ second-leading rusher with 335 yards for the season, and he proved to be a quality decision maker and runner when necessary — which was actually far too often, as the offensive line didn’t hold up well and forced him to run a good bit.

But it would stand to reason that Clifford may need to back off running some this season, because of the Lions’ limited depth at the quarterback spot. Ta’Quan Roberson took only a few snaps last year, while Christian Veilleux is a true freshman, and those are the only other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.

Clifford, however, didn’t want to hear anything about cutting back on running.

“I’ll run as much as this team needs me to, whether that be one time a game, whether that be 30 times a game,” he said. “Whatever we need to do to win the game, I’m gonna do it.”

But doesn’t the team need him to stay healthy, too? And will he consider that when it comes to running or not running so much?

“I don’t think about injury. That’s the last thing I probably think about,” Clifford said. “I’m gonna do what I gotta do to win the game. If it means run the ball 100 times, I’m gonna run the ball 100 times. If it means I give it to these great backs that we have, I’m gonna give it to the backs.”

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