With about two minutes left, I had a thought I’d had once before in the opening game of a Penn State football season.
During the 2018 Appalachian State game as it went to overtime, I remember having the same thought I had Thursday in West Lafayette.
“Oh well, this was a fun season.”
If you’ve read this column, you know that I’m largely an optimist when it comes to Penn State football. And when Penn State finds itself in a situation like it was Thursday evening inside Ross-Ade Stadium, I’m usually one to say “they’ll figure this out.”
On Thursday, I felt that optimism escape me, already thinking about the 2023 season with the first game of the 2022 season already over.
But then something clicked with Penn State, Sean Clifford and Mike Yurcich. Something that I was expecting from the get-go Thursday evening. We saw what Yurcich can do with his offense all in one drive, largely erasing a so-so game for Clifford and once again restoring my optimism in this season.
I went back and watched that final Penn State drive and the difference between that one and the others on the night was simple. Yurcich was finally aggressive. Clifford was finally a sixth-year quarterback who should be leading his team down the field on the road late.
And most of all, it appeared that James Franklin trusted the hire he stunningly made after the 2020 offensive disaster.
On 3rd and 2 inside its 30, Yurcich dialed up a simple, yet smart wide receiver screen. It went for about five yards but created the momentum Penn State needed to score just a few plays later.
From there, Penn State got a smart run from Kaytron Allen, a great throw by Clifford and smooth reception by Mitchell Tinsley. The Nittany Lions played effectively, efficiently and most of all, they were aggressive for the first time all night.
The aggression when it came to offensive play calling was something that was largely absent in the 2021 season, and for as much as I spent the first 58 minutes of Thursday’s game wondering what a Boilermaker was, I wondered where the offensive connection that Franklin raved about between Clifford and Yurcich had been.
Then, those two finally made things work.
It’s time for that to continue. Franklin needs to trust Yurcich for the exact reason he hired the former Oklahoma State assistant. Clifford needs to make that plan from Yurcich happen by being effective and smart and not sailing a ball 10 yards over the head of 6’1” wide receiver, into the hands of a cornerback and then having to chase down said cornerback before nearly being puked on by him.
The style that got Yurcich the job married with the fight in Clifford is what can push Penn State’s offense this year. Franklin needs to be the one that makes that happen. But he needs to do it before it’s too late. Before there are two minutes left on the clock and largely after the runs aren’t working.
Otherwise, I’ll be spending more moments inside football stadiums this season wondering how 2023 is going to go.
Darian Somers is a 2016 Penn State graduate currently living in Frederick, Maryland. You can follow him on Twitter at @StuffSomersSays. You can listen to his podcast, Stuff Somers Says with Steve Sampsell, every week on major podcast outlets.