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Penn State offense shows promise with room to improve

Sean Clifford had a gleam in his eye when someone asked him about all the formations and personnel packages that Penn State used in its methodical win over Ball State.

The Nittany Lions gained 493 total yards and 32 first downs in their 44-13 rout and hinted at what might be coming on offense under new coordinator Mike Yurcich.

“You liked that, huh?” Clifford replied to a question about the offense. “It makes me happy to come into work for him (Yurcich). It’s fun. You’re not going to see the same plays over and over. He’s going to throw a wrinkle in here and there.

“The drives were a lot of fun. We moved the ball with efficiency.”

Ten different receivers caught passes. Penn State used packages with anywhere from three tight ends to none; two-back sets; five-receiver sets; and the first plays with the quarterback under center since Christian Hackenberg played from 2013-15.

“It was awesome,” Lions coach James Franklin said. “When we did it, the clouds parted and the sun shined like, Aaahh! The whole stadium was so happy.

“We won a lot of games from the shotgun and we’ll win a lot of games from under center and the shotgun.”

Franklin hopes he’s singing hosannas for the offense at the end of the season. He fired Kirk Ciarrocca after one season as coordinator and hired Yurcich for three reasons, he said in January:

Score more points. Have more explosive plays (20 yards or longer). Commit fewer turnovers.

In a brief two-game sample, Penn State has done all three. The Lions have averaged 30.0 points and 5.0 explosive plays and have no turnovers, compared to the 2020 numbers: 29.8, 4.78 and 1.89 turnovers.

Clifford has taken tender loving care of the football, playing without an error after committing 12 turnovers last year in nine games.

“You win a lot of games if you don’t turn the ball over,” he said. “I learned that last year and made a lot of adjustments to how I act with the football. It’s paying big dividends for our team.”

That area is clearly an improvement, but the other two categories aren’t much better than last year so far.

Without the mind-numbing first half at Wisconsin, the Lions are scoring a robust 20 points a half. They have 10 explosive plays, including three receptions by Dotson.

What’s most concerning is that the running game has generated just three runs of 15 yards or longer, including two by Clifford against Ball State.

“We were more balanced and more efficient,” Franklin said about the win over the Cardinals. “A lot had to do with how they played. They were not going to allow us to throw it over their heads. That was obvious. But by doing that, it created some free access throws.

“There are a bunch of things we have to get cleaned up. I still think there’s a lot of improvement that can be made and should be made.”

Franklin also hired Yurcich to improve Clifford’s timing and accuracy. So far, he’s completed 62.9% of his passes for 477 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating is a smidge better than last year.

“A lot of it comes down to how your quarterback plays,” Franklin said. “I thought he was very confident. He was very efficient. He was very poised early on, I thought Mike called a really good game, which put Sean in advantageous situations.

“When Sean had an opportunity to make some plays or extend some plays, he did that.”

Penn State passed its season-opening test at Wisconsin, getting enough big plays in the second half to win. This week Auburn goes into Beaver Stadium for a prime-time meeting. The Lions will have a better idea of where the offense is after facing a Southeastern Conference opponent.

“There was a lot of good stuff and a lot to fix,” Clifford said. “I’m excited to keep building.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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