Better than ever for Penn State? How QB Sean Clifford's spring can make a difference

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Sean Clifford has gone through more spring practice workouts than anyone.

He'll turn 24 in July.

He's now supposed to become not only be the best version of himself but make up for lost opportunities the past two seasons − all while teaching and instructing. Three of Penn State's top QB recruits are under his purview, too.

And he apparently handled it all better than anyone could have expected this spring, which culminated in Saturday's Blue-White Game.

Franklin called it the best 15 spring workouts of Clifford's career. He agreed.

"I feel so confident and it was my best spring, and I’m not going to harp on myself that long. (But) I feel great. My mind’s clear, I'm having a blast."

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford scrambles as he looks to throw the ball during the 2022 Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, April 23, 2022, in State College.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford scrambles as he looks to throw the ball during the 2022 Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, April 23, 2022, in State College.

Of course, he felt ultra-confident last year, too. Then he was injured after a 5-0 start. He never missed a game but struggled with accuracy and his mobility and the season collapsed alongside first-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.

It's different now, he said. He has "second year-in-the-system confidence. I’ve seen every look in this offense. I know the terminology like it was the back of my hand. I know what plays we want to be in ... and when I get a (defensive) look we don’t like I know the checks to get us out of those looks. We did that today. A lot of communication. You’re going to see me at the line talking to the linemen a lot more, making sure we're in the right play 95 percent, 100 percent of the time."

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On Saturday, Clifford played sparingly but was 4-of-7 throwing for 41 yards with an opening touchdown to transfer receiver and roommate Mitch Tinsley. He also ran twice for 14 yards.

But his progress goes beyond that. Franklin said it comes from an entire spring of data. His staff reviews everything, keeps number on all things possible. From interceptions to completions to explosive plays. From receiver drop percentage to adjusted drop percentage to missed assignments.

Clifford apparently fared better than ever − and is still a clear-cut leader over top backup Christian Veilleux and highly-rated freshmen Drew Allar and Beau Pribula.

Veilleux and Allar, for example, completed less than 50 percent of their passes Saturday against their own defense (combined 11-of-28) with two interceptions and a touchdown. Pribula threw only three times but did provide a spark at the very end, nearly pulling off a late touchdown rally.

Penn State freshman quarterback Drew Allar rolls to his right as he looks to pass during the 2022 Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, April 23, 2022, in State College.
Penn State freshman quarterback Drew Allar rolls to his right as he looks to pass during the 2022 Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, April 23, 2022, in State College.

"I thought he was tremendous" with the young quarterbacks, Franklin said. "And what's great is you hear that from the young quarterbacks, but then I see the Pribulas and I see the Allars, mom and dad, and they talk about their sons talking about how great Sean was with them all spring."

It was, of course, a Blue-White Game quite like no other in which to evaluate and judge. Because of a lack of healthy and available offensive linemen, the team alternated between scrimmage periods and 7-on-7 drills without blockers.

Penn State freshman quarterback Beau Pribula greets supporters on the sideline following the 2022 Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, April 23, 2022, in State College.
Penn State freshman quarterback Beau Pribula greets supporters on the sideline following the 2022 Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, April 23, 2022, in State College.

Franklin said he hopes to return to the traditional scrimmage design next year rather than turn the day into some kind of skills competition or interactive fan experience. He did not expand upon earlier ideas of playing another team, like from the FCS level.

There's too much value in grading young quarterbacks, for example, to not play a true competition in Beaver Stadium. He wants the fan base to own a buzz about his players, about his team heading into the summer.

"Number one, when you step into the stadium and you’ve got 60,000 fans, I want to know which young players can handle that. Some rise to the occasion and play better than they did in the other 14 practices; some are nervous and are dropping balls that they haven't dropped all spring.

"Maybe I'm old school (but) I'm still a believer that this game is built on toughness and I want to see who’s tough when it matters."

Which goes back to his senior quarterback who is set to break about every meaningful Penn State passing record this coming season while seemingly always fighting through some kind of injury or setback. Lots of statistics and yet goals still unmet.

The quarterback may just be closer than ever to his best version yet.

Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at fbodani@ydr.com and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.

This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: Penn State: James Franklin, Sean Clifford lead PSU at Blue-White Game