Clifford shows he’s team’s top QB
Penn State spring practice
UNIVERISTY PARK — Penn State had four quarterbacks see time during Saturday’s spring practice at Beaver Stadium. But one stood out the most, and it’s no surprise to Nittany Lion fans.
Sean Clifford, Penn State’s only quarterback with college experience, threw for more than 120 yards and looked solid for the Nittany Lions in their 12th practice of the spring. And for Penn State’s first-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, he knows that Clifford has poise when he’s in the pocket.
“What happens when you play as much as Sean does, and these guys that are experienced guys, they have poise and don’t get rattled,” Yurich said. “That’s what you expect and something you have to continue to work on and consistency. Consistency and the ability to anticipate and play tough. You have to be the toughest guy on the field.”
While Clifford had numerous reps — he attempted 13 passes — freshmen quarterbacks Christian Veilleux, Ta’Quan Roberson and Mason Stahl all got time throughout the practice to run the offense as well.
“Obviously the quarterback work is important, and I think Sean’s done some really great things this spring. Mike (Yurcich) has been impressed from what he’s seen to Sean’s approach. It’s really important to Sean. He works really hard at it and prepares like you’re supposed to prepare,” James Franklin said. “We’ll be smart these next three practices. We’ll have a plan now to summer camp and have a specific camp so when we open first game, we open on all cylinders. But so far so good.”
Roberson and Veilleux showed promise at the quarterback position throughout the spring practice. Roberson led a 99-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Daniel George. Later in the spring practice, Veilleux orchestrated a nice drive from the 50 to the 3-yard line before Caziah Holmes punched it in for a touchdown. Veilleux also had a touchdown pass in the game.
“Offensively I think that we’re growing every day. We’ve installed a lot. We’ve had an install pretty much every single day. You just have to learn to adapt and grow on the fly and learn,” Clifford said. “You have to retain all this information and make sure you’re getting everything before practice. … I think that’s what coach Yurcich does so well, he pushes us to another level.”
Franklin knows that game experience is huge and the backup quarterbacks behind Clifford will need to get that. When asked about the backup job at quarterback, Franklin said that “it’s hard to say that when you have guys that haven’t played significant game reps.”
“It’s hard to say that you feel that way because you never know until the guys get in there. That’s why I think being in Beaver Stadium (for practice) is important for us. It’s different,” Franklin said. “Both Ta’Quan and Christian showed some really great flashes of what we’re trying to do, how to operate the offense the way Mike wants it run and also the ability to make some good plays and have the vision to make throws.”
Clifford played well throughout the spring game, but he did have a few drives sputter. Clifford couldn’t convert a third-and-goal pass from the 6 intended for Jahan Dotson which resulted in Jake Pinegar kicking a field goal. That same situation played out on Clifford’s next possession in which he drove he offense to the opposing 25, only to have a pass broken up in tight coverage and have the result be a field goal.
Clifford threw an interception to freshman Kalen King. The offense also lost a fumble.
“Ball security is the most important thing that we stress, and we didn’t do a good job of that today. That’s going to be hounded always. If we play as smart on offense and we don’t turn it over, we give ourselves a chance,” Yurcich said. “If you turn it over, you have no chance, and we have to take care of the doggone football.
“Whether it’s a drill, a block, a read, we have to finish.”
While many were wondering about the quarterback situation, Penn State’s running backs showed glimpses of what could be in the fall. Devyn Ford, Caziah Holmes and Tank Smith all proved they can help move the ball. Holmes had a receiving touchdown, Smith ran for a score and Ford had a special teams touchdown.
“We have a bunch of backs who can provide that (explosive run). That’s the O-line and tight ends creating space for those explosive plays and that’s also through scheme,” Franklin said. “That’s what RPOs are all about. The explosive plays in run play come kind of through all those things.”
Keyvone Lee ran for 438 yards and four touchdowns last year and Ford had 274 and three scores. Add in Holmes, who had 227 and two touchdowns, and the Nittany Lions’ backfield has plenty of depth. That was showcased Saturday as all three got plenty of reps.
Regarding the offensive line, Franklin spoke about both Rasheed Walker and Caedan Wallace at tackle as part of Penn State’s first team.
“To me if you got two tackles, you got a lot of confidence and have a center inside, they have a lot of confidence from a communication standpoint and experience standpoint. That’s where you’d like to start and build from. Not that guards aren’t important, they are critically important, but you’d love to have a center and two bookend tackles to help some inexperienced guards from a communications standpoint, from a call perspective and to help those guys kind of develop and grow,” Franklin said.
Penn State has three spring practices remaining, all of which will happen this week (today, Wednesday and Friday night). Franklin is hoping those final three practices will allow for him and his staff to refine finer details.
“I think the thing I always felt is the run game is something that you’d like to leave the spring feeling good about because it’s hard making improvements on that,” Franklin said. “But the passing game, a lot of things you can work on on your own in spring and summer. I like where we’re at, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.”