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Penn State Facing Ciarrocca Presents Unique Familiarity

Sean Clifford hands the ball off to Tank Smith at practice.

ALTOONA, Pa. — College football is a copycat sport. What works for one team transforms into the hot thing to do for everyone: see the Air Raid offense.

That said, it should go as no surprise that Penn State will face a unique situation when they face Minnesota and former offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca Saturday.

“To be honest with you in today’s college football that’s happening all the time,” Franklin said after practice Wednesday. “Michigan had a guy on their staff that had been with us for a number of years.”

Ciarrocca returned to the Golden Gophers where he had coached prior to his time with the Nittany Lions after spending a year as an analyst at West Virginia following his unceremonious dismissal last year prior to the hiring of Mike Yurcich.

In being gone only over a year, Ciarrocca is well versed in what Penn State will be offering on Saturday night.

“He’s got a really good understanding of who we are. And what we do. And how we operate and our personnel,” Franklin said.

That understanding is two-fold because for as much as Ciarrocca knows and understands the personnel of the Nittany Lions, Franklin and company know just as much if not more about what to expect when Ciarrocca’s offense is on the field.

“We got a pretty good understanding of what he likes to do offensively,” Franklin said. “His time at West Virginia, picked up off picked up a few things as well, we got a pretty good idea of who they are as well.”

Familiarity amongst coaches is no longer uncommon with coaches jumping ship year after year for one opportunity or another and with the amount of film and analytics teams have access to now, it’s no longer a shock to see surprises each week.

Will there be many surprises thrown by either team Saturday night? Only on the injury report with both team’s starters having been removed from last weekend’s games. Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan was carted off the field while Sean Clifford exited a blowout against Michigan quietly with an apparent shoulder injury.

With or without Morgan, the offense doesn’t change much under Ciarrocca at least according to Franklin.

“He’s got a very clear identity of who he’s been wherever he’s been … Whether [Tanner Morgan] is in the game, we have a pretty good idea of how he’s gonna operate,” Franklin said.

It wasn’t a solid marriage between Franklin and Ciarrocca during his brief tenure at Penn State, but come Saturday night, fans will see who gets to have the upper hand.


  • No Keyvone Lee – Lee wasn’t at practice Wednesday at any point whether it was the open media portion or the remainder of the practice. Franklin said after practice ‘it was not not because class’ which could mean a possible suspension, unknown injury, or possibly a trip to the transfer portal. Losing Lee would be a rough blow to a running back group short on experience.
  • Curtis Jacobs and Abdul Carter sharing the field more? – Jacobs and Carter have played some high quality football this season which is great for the Nittany Lions. What’s not great, however, is they share the same position. That makes it quite difficult at this stage of the game to get them on the field at the same time, though, Franklin says it can be done. “The way to get both of those guys on the field is the two inside backer positions. That’s easier said than done.”
  • Demeanor after losses – Penn State has a habit under Franklin of one loss turning into multiple losses. For Franklin though, he’s ‘evolved’ which has been critical for the program to succeed and the players do typically feed of that type of positive energy.
  • Clifford practice update – Clifford practiced during the group period Wednesday in which he spent handing the ball off or making reads with running backs not named Lee. He was not on the field for individual drills which saw the quarterbacks throwing to wide receivers.
  • Clifford update from Franklin – Nice try … we all know nothing was mentioned of importance.
  • Clifford update from Trey Wallace – “He looks 100 percent.”

Is Clifford 100 percent like Trey Wallace says? Realistically, probably not. Though, to be quite honest, it’s anybody’s guess as to what his status is for Saturday.

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