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NFL Draft

Sean Clifford Has Shown Considerable Improvement In 2021

  • The Draft Network
  • October 15, 2021
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Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford’s future looks uncertain with the only update on his status from Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin being that Clifford is “doing everything he possibly can to get back” after leaving the Iowa game with an injury. It would be a shame if Clifford were unable to get back to action soon, considering the type of campaign he has been having to this point.

At the midway point of the 2021 season, Clifford has completed 118-of-178 passes (66.3%) for 1,482 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He finished out the previous season completing 152-of-251 passes (60.6%) for 1,883 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions in the nine games he played in.

There’s definitely some improvement there from a passing perspective, as things look a good bit better than last year already six games into the season. Clifford has also continued to make good throws on the run and has enough athletic ability to take it in himself to power past the defense and put points on the board when needed.

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And it’s quite clear to see just how much Clifford means to the success of this Penn State offense—we caught a glimpse of that when backup quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson entered the game for the injured Clifford against Iowa, putting up just 34 yards to Clifford’s 146 as he completed 7-of-21 passes with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. The passing game looked non-existent, and the idea that Penn State could have taken down Iowa if Clifford had been able to stay in seems that much more plausible when you consider that the Nittany Lions scored just three points in a game that ended in a score of 23-20 with the Hawkeyes on top. There were other factors that played into the loss and not all blame goes on Roberson, but it’s clear that Penn State is on a whole other level with its leader.

So, what exactly has changed for Clifford, who was somewhat underwhelming last season as he and Penn State lost the last five games he played in?

Part of it has to do with something as simple as confidence and having a strong relationship with the coach on the sideline. It’s an underrated aspect of quarterback play that may be among the most important. Because something like confidence that comes off as such an elementary aspect when you first think about it trickles down into so much more—lack of confidence breeds hesitation, which is something that can be absolutely backbreaking to a quarterback and can affect things ranging from release time to stepping up to make the big play to properly working through progressions. 

Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has described Clifford to reporters as a quarterback who had a lot of confidence when he met him, but that confidence seems to be showing up on the field a lot more than it did in the past—it shows up in the level of comfort Clifford appears to have in the offense. It shows up in the way he’s making fewer mistakes and is picking himself back up and rebounding after he makes them, something we saw in the Iowa game after he threw an interception. Clifford has also seemed more aware in the pocket overall.

"He does a really good job relaying information quickly and effectively to me, especially when I need it," Clifford said of Yurcich earlier this season. "He also does a really good job of keeping me calm but also firing me up when I need to. He's got a really good balance to him with that."

Clifford even went as far as to call himself “the most confident quarterback in the country” ahead of the season, which is reflective of how bought in he is to the offense, another thing that’s important for any team to succeed.

It’s clear the Yurcich-Clifford pairing is working out about as well as could have been hoped for, and it will be interesting to see just how much more of the duo we see this season.

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