INDIANAPOLIS —For the 2022 football season, Sean Clifford’s sole focus is on whatever he can do to get the most out of his final campaign as the Penn State starting quarterback.
But when his time in Happy Valley is over, Clifford has two major goals in mind.
The first is well-documented: making his Limitless NILcompany into a long-term success for both himself and the athletes it represents.
The second isn’t as publicized, but it’s every bit as important to Clifford: making sure that he leaves the Penn State quarterback position in good shape once his successor takes over.
Whether it’s returning backup Christian Veilleux or freshmen Drew Allaror Beau Pribulawho eventually takes over from Clifford after he exhausts his eligibility, he wants to make sure Penn State is are set up for continued success.
“I’m not just here to play my position,” Clifford said on day two of Big Ten Media Days Wednesday. “I’m here to lead my team and lead the young guys in the right direction and make sure to leave a legacy to them that they can look up to and say, ‘I want to do this, this and this that Sean did and do better.’
“That’s the legacy that I was left with Trace McSorely. That’s the legacy that he was left with Christian Hackenberg, and the list goes on and on. That’s one of those things where you’re always trying to be better than the guy in front of you, and that’s what makes great teams great. You don’t replace, you just reload.”
The fact that Penn State is in a position to do that this year and beyond is a marked improvement from where things were a year ago.
Last year, Clifford appeared rock-solid at the quarterback position, but with no real experience behind him, Penn State’s foundation was built on sand if anything happened to its veteran signal-caller.
Sure enough, Clifford had to leave the game against Iowa in the second quarter, and Pen. State’s offense left with him.
With since-departed Ta’Quan Roberson ineffective and Veilleux inexperienced, Penn State didn’t run a play inside Iowa’s 45-yard line over the final 21 minutes, leading to a loss that catalyzed the wrong direction in Happy Valley.
This time, if something happens to Clifford, Penn State is confident that someone will be ready to step in and perform.
“One of the things that probably stands out about our team right now is I love our overall depth,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I think our overall depth is as good as it’s been in a number of years.
“(We’re) obviously returning an experienced player at the quarterback position, a starter, a guy who’s been a captain for three years. But this year our depth at the quarterback position with four quarterbacks that we feel very, very strong about. We feel great about the competition in that room.”
The biggest addition to the room is the player many Penn State fans expect will be the starter in 2023 and beyond: Allar.
Unlike a lot of players, Allar committed to Penn State before becoming one of the top prospects in the country and stuck with his commitment, which is one of several reasons that Franklin raves about the freshman as both a player and person.
“He’s done all the right things since he stepped on campus, academically, athletically and socially,” Franklin said. “He’s made some big-time throws and was able to get a foundation laid in the spring, and now he’ll have a better feel in camp. If you’re a freshman and trying to compete and at the same time trying to learn the system, that’s hard.”
It’s no easy task for experienced quarterbacks either, which could explain some of the team’s struggles over the past two seasons.
For the first time since the 2019 season, Penn State will start the year with the same offensive coordinator it had the year before, something Clifford thinks should help the entire quarterback group as it gets another year working with Mike Yurcich.
“That’s huge,” Clifford said. “Every single year when you get going in the spring, whether as offense or defense, you’re going in there as either a learning period or a mastering period. I’ve finally been blessed to be able to be in the same system to be able to master the offense in a way that I haven’t been able to before. Now we can go back and look at what happened in the fall, and now we did this in the spring and made strides here. Now let’s build off those and get better at those small weaknesses we found in the spring.”
If Penn can fix those things, it’ll go a long way toward lifting the offense to stronger production than it had a year ago.
After Clifford’s injury against Iowa, the team had just two games in its final seven in which it scored 28 or more points.
Not coincidentally, those were the two games they won during a 2-6 finish to last season.
This year, Clifford wants to put that in the past and set Penn State up to get back to its previous heights on a long-term basis.
“Everybody’s owning what happened last year,” Clifford said. “We’re not shying away from it, and the stats don’t lie; what the record is is what the record is. But we’re 0-0 right now going into Purdue on Sept. 1. That’s all that matters.”