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PSU point-counter point: Offense needs to click to defeat Badgers

By Cory Giger

There’s no dress rehearsal, no time to ease into things playing a cupcake opponent. Penn State had better be ready to play right off the bat Saturday, and that means the new offense needs to be clicking early.

James Franklin knows this. He’s said as much, noting the Nittany Lions had better be ready to go against a good Wisconsin team that surely will be fired up playing in front of a packed Camp Randall Stadium.

The best formula to beat Wisconsin involves basic common sense. Get a lead early and force the Badgers into playing catchup, which is harder to do for a team that relies so heavily on the run.

This Mike Yurcich offense is going to be really good this season. Count on it. But will it be really good in Saturday’s opener, on the road, against a tough, physical opponent?

It had better be. Because the thought here is that Penn State’s defense is going to give up a lot of points.

Yurcich’s system is designed to put constant pressure on the defense, using any and all means necessary. That includes fast tempo, frequent shots downfield, having the quarterback get rid of the ball quickly and getting the ball into the playmakers’ hands.

The single biggest question for this entire season is whether quarterback Sean Clifford is good enough to help the offense realize its full potential.

I have serious concerns about that.

But here’s the thing: Even if Clifford is merely pretty good but not great, this offense will score points, because he has a lot of weapons at his disposal.

What Clifford cannot be is bad, like he was early last year. He cannot turn the ball over, miss open receivers, misread defenses or feel the need to take off and run all the time, risking injury.

The tendency for a new coordinator such as Yurcich would be to come in and play things a little close to the vest in an opener, feeling out his quarterback and seeing what he can do.

Yurcich should not and cannot do that Saturday. He needs to give Clifford freedom to chuck the ball down the field and keep chucking down the field, even if things don’t work out at times.

That’s what this offense is, and needs to be in order for Penn State to win this season.

For the record, I do not think PSU wins Saturday. I picked the Badgers, 34-26, for two reasons. I don’t think the Lions’ defense will be able to stop the Badgers. And I think it’s going to take a few games before we really see what this offense can do — just like when Joe Moorhead installed his system in 2016.

For the Lions to win, the offense needs to have a really big day.

Copy and paste that for the entire season.

Cory Giger is a Penn State beat writer for DK Pittsburgh Sports and host of “Sports Central” weekday afternoons from 4-5 on WRTA. Contact him at cgsports12@aol.com.

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