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Penn State football: has the Mike Yurcich offense peaked?

Was the Nittany Lions’ 35-21 win over Utah the peak of Mike Yurcich’s offense?

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Oct 29, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) signals from the line of scrimmage during the fourth quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium. Ohio State defeated Penn State 44-31. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the Mike Yurcich offense was under the microscope following the 2021 season. It’s also no question that Penn State took significant steps forward on that side of the ball in 2022. Given the stage and competition, Penn State’s Rose Bowl performance feels like the most significant the offense has seen under Yurcich. But is that reality? Was the Rose Bowl the peak of Mike Yurcich’s offense at Penn State?

The answer to that question is mixed. When you take a step back, Penn State’s offense was not firing on all cylinders during the Rose Bowl. However, it peaked in the right areas at the right times to put together one of its strongest performances of the season.

2022 by the numbers

By pretty much any standard, Penn State’s offense in 2021 did not pan out as expected when Mike Yurcich was hired in the offseason. The Nittany Lions were a bottom-half scoring offense nationally, averaging 25 points per game. In 11 games against Power 5 competition, Penn State only scored more than 21 points six times. The offense was in the upper tier nationally with 269 passing yards per game, but that was out of necessity. The running game was abysmal, barely cracking 100 yards per game.

Even before the Rose Bowl, the Nittany Lions’ 2022 offense significantly improved. Penn State averaged 10 more points per game and scored above 21 points in eight of ten matchups against Power 5 teams (the Rose Bowl was the 9th time in 11 games). In addition, the offense scored over 40 points five times, something it managed to do once the year before.

While the passing attack took a step back, it did so in favor of more balance. Passing yards dropped to roughly 250 per game. But rushing yards skyrocketed to 182 per game, an increase of almost 70% from the year prior.

The Rose Bowl – coming through when it counts

Mike Yurcich called a good game in the Rose Bowl. Many of the offense’s weaknesses, minor though they may be, will likely be lost to history, given the game’s outcome. That does not mean, however, that it was a flawless performance on the offensive side of the ball.

In many ways, the offensive line play took a significant leap forward in 2022. But in the Rose Bowl, this group was simply average. Sean Clifford was sacked three times in what PFF graded as the Lions’ worst pass-blocking performance of the season (score of 42). The line’s run-blocking grade of 61 was slightly above the season average of 59, but by no means was it the unit’s best showing of the year.

But that’s why having dynamic playmakers at the skill positions can make such a difference. Utah contained Penn State’s running game most of the night. Take away Nicholas Singleton’s 87-yard dash, and the Nittany Lions ran the ball 30 times for 82 yards.

However, taking that play away is not entirely fair – it’s part of the game. Utah had one of the best fronts Penn State had seen all year and one of the best running defenses in the nation. Seeing the Lions dominate on the ground for the entire game would have been surprising. But with one crack, the offensive stat line (2.7 vs. 5.5 YPC) – and the game – was changed. Yurcich’s offense desperately lacked that in 2021.

Clifford was the key to the Mike Yurcich scheme

The biggest game-changer of the night was Clifford. His 279 yards were above average, even compared to the pass-happy offense of 2021. Clifford’s PFF passing grade of 93 was the highest of his career and of any quarterback in bowl season.

In the Rose Bowl, we saw what Yurich’s offense can look like when a quarterback plays to his full potential. Clifford put the ball in tight windows and pushed it down the field. He placed throws where only his receivers could catch them. He put the offense in position to make plays when it counted most. Penn State was lethal on third down, tallying 288 yards and three touchdowns.

Simply put, Clifford helped to elevate the play of those around him. And that’s why Penn State overcame its deficiencies and had one of its best offensive games of the season.

A positive outlook?

Optimism for next season may have also shaded Penn State’s Rose Bowl performance with rose-colored glasses.

The Nittany Lions’ youth movement was on full display in Pasadena. Most of Penn State’s offensive production came from its young offensive weapons. In total, 419 of 448 yards and four of five touchdowns came from players with freshmen or sophomore eligibility. Three of those scores came from Penn State’s talented true freshmen running back duo – Singleton and Kaytron Allen.

Next year could be the deepest offensive line in James Franklin’s decade at Penn State. Four starters from 2022 are set to return for next season. Given the experience gained through injuries, seven linemen could compete for five starting roles in 2023. There is the caveat of the transfer portal, of course. But at present, this is the best the offensive line has projected going into an offseason in a very long time.

And, of course, there is that quarterback position. Drew Allar could have a Clifford-Esque Rose Bowl performance every game. While we’ve seen him flash at times in 2022, Allar must prove his potential with a much larger sample set. To quote Jim Harbaugh, “nobody knows what the future holds.” But Allar can take Penn State’s offense to new heights.

When looking at it from this perspective, it’s possible that Penn State’s offense didn’t peak in the Rose Bowl. Maybe, the performance was just a primer for what we can expect from Mike Yurcich in 2023.

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Sean Clifford has some bold statements ahead of the NFL Draft

On Friday, Sean Clifford had some bold statements ahead of the NFL Draft in mid-April.

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Penn State veteran Sean Clifford, Penn State football
Sep 17, 2022; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) takes a snap during the first quarter against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

STATE COLLEGE, PA — On Friday, the Penn State Nittany Lions held their pro day at the school’s football facilities. There, 6-year Penn State football quarterback Sean Clifford made an impact on pro scouts, and made some bold claims about his combine snub and NFL hopes. Whether you love him or hate him, Penn State veteran Sean Clifford believes in himself, and believes that he is ready for what professional football has for him.

Penn State veteran Sean Clifford believes that he is ready for for the NFL

Here is some of what Penn State veteran Sean Clifford had to say during his pro day performance on Friday.

“I feel like I was snubbed with the Combine for sure,” Clifford said. “The body of work that I’ve had with these teams here; when I didn’t see my name as a Combine guy, I felt disrespected for sure. But, hey, it’s just more fuel to the fire.

“Being able to come out here, show the scouts what I got, and being able to really just put on a show, it’s been a lot of fun, and a good way to cap off a great career at Penn State. So I’m really thankful.”

Sean Clifford has an impressive body of work with Penn State football

During his six years in State College, Penn State veteran Sean Clifford broke numerous Penn State football records — such as passing yards, passing touchdowns, and more. Additionally, Clifford became the winningest Penn State quarterback of all-time, compiling a 33-15 record and two New Year’s Six bowls during his four seasons as a starter.

When asked how he through his pro day went, Penn State veteran Sean Clifford claimed that it went “Really well … Especially getting out there and being able to show my speed. I think that’s something I really wanted to come in and kind of re-prove. I know that I’ve shown speed on film. But I wanted to come out here and post a good time. So being able to post a 4.57[-second 40-yard-dash], I’m proud of that number.”

Now that his pro day has passed, Sean Clifford has his attention on getting into the NFL — he will likely be signed after the draft as not many teams are in need of a 24-year-old quarterback. Still, he believes that all he needs is a chance.

“I just need to be in a camp,” Clifford said. “I just need to be able to be in a practice with the pros. Because I know I’m a pro, [and] I know I can come in and add value to a team. I know that more than anything. I still think that I can play in the [NFL], 100 percent, provide to a team, win games, the same way I did here.

“So it’s just being able to come out, talk to as many scouts as possible, get to know some coaches. It’s just being able to get around a bunch of teams, because I truly feel like no matter where I’m at, I could add a substantial amount of value.”



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Penn State quarterback room dips in annual ESPN rankings

The Nittany Lions are a few spots down from where the 2022 QB room ranked.

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Drew Allar, 2023 QB rankings

STATE COLLEGE, PA — Ahead of every college football season, ESPN ranks the top quarterback rooms in the sport. Seeing as QB is the most important position on the field, this ranking is a pretty important indication of how a team’s offense will perform throughout the year — ESPN ranks the entire room, not just the team’s starting quarterback. This week, ESPN released its 2023 QB rankings, and the Nittany Lions — led by sophomore Drew Allar — found themselves a few spots lower than they did a season ago.

Where did Penn State football rank in 2022?

With Sean Clifford and Drew Allar headlining Penn State’s quarterback room in 2022, ESPN ranked the Nittany Lions at No. 11 nationally a season ago. After winning the Rose Bowl and finishing 11-2 overall, Penn State football lost two of its three QBs from the 2022 room — Sean Clifford is graduating, and Christian Veilleux has entered the transfer portal.

With only Drew Allar remaining from last year’s room, many thought that this preseason dip in the rankings was inevitable; after all, no one has truly seen Allar or Pribula play ball yet.

Where do Drew Allar and Penn State fall in the 2023 QB rankings?

This year, Penn State comes in at No. 15 nationally in the 2023 QB rankings — just four spots down from last year’s rankings despite losing 2/3 of the room and a veteran starting quarterback. With the nation’s No. 1 recruit from 2022 — Drew Allar — at the helm this year, Penn State fans are hoping for much bigger and better than what the program got under Sean Clifford.

Behind Drew Allar is fellow sophomore Beau Pribula, who has been turning heads during spring ball this far, and could find himself a stand alone role on the Penn State offense this year. According to James Franklin, his most attractive trait is that he boasts an opposite skillset than what Sean Clifford and Drew Allar have.

Behind Pribula at QB3 is true freshman Jackson Smolik.

What is the expectation for Allar & Co. this year?

After four years of Sean Clifford, all Penn State fans are ready to turn the page. While Clifford’s teams had some great seasons — such as 2019 and 2022 which both won 11 games and New Year’s Six bowls — he was never enough to get the Nittany Lions to the next level. Now, Penn State needs to get more from the massive Drew Allar and his counterparts.

As I have written before, the Penn State Nittany Lions do not need Allar to be elite in 2023 to make the CFP. That being said, if Penn State wants to win a national title, elite is the only thing that can be expected of Drew Allar. We will know a lot more about this year’s offense on September 2nd when Penn State kicks off its 2023 season at home against West Virginia; for now, the expectations for Allar and Co. are all over the place.



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Penn State needs KeAndre Lambert-Smith to be a true No. 1, Franklin says

The Nittany Lions need their veteran wide receiver to be one of the best in the Big Ten this year.

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Penn State football KeAndre Lambert-Smith
Nov 27, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith (13) runs after a catch during the second quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

STATE COLLEGE, PA — Heading into the 2023 season, the Penn State Nittany Lions are losing some solid talent at the wide receiver position. A season ago, standouts like Parker Washington, Mitchell Tinsley, and Brenton Strange were some of Sean Clifford’s favorite targets; however, as we turn the page to a brand new season this fall, Penn State football will be without all three of these pass-catchers. In year one of the Drew Allar era, head coach James Franklin claims that the Nittany Lions need KeAndre Lambert-Smith to be a true No. 1 receiver.

Penn State football news KeAndre Lambert-Smith to be a true No. 1 receiver

The Penn State football team is looking solid at wide receiver right now despite all of its departures from the 2022 squad. The Nittany Lions managed to add two solid receivers from the transfer portal and still have some in-house talent that they can fall back on. That being said, Penn State needs one man to go above and beyond this year: KeAndre Lambert-Smith.

A season ago, Lambert-Smith caught 24 passes for 389 yards and four touchdowns — his best performance of the year came against No. 8 Utah in the Rose Bowl game on January 2nd; there, he hauled in three passes for 124 yards and a touchdown during the Nittany Lions’ 14-point win over the Utes. After the Rose Bowl performance, KeAndre Lambert-Smith claimed that, while the 11-2 season was nice, Penn State football is looking for bigger and better in 2023.

James Franklin says Lambert-Smith needs to be a top performer in the Big Ten, not just at Penn State

Here is what head coach James Franklin had to say about KeAndre Lambert-Smith during his media availability on Tuesday afternoon:

“He’s been really good so far this spring,” Franklin said. “We need him to be THE guy, a true number one [receiver], not just at Penn State but really in the [Big Ten] and a guy that people are talking about nationally.”

James Franklin added that Penn State is still figuring out some depth issues when it comes to the wideout room. “There is going to be a competition really with all of [Penn State’s receivers] — I think that is probably one of the big question marks between now and the first game.”

After an incredible 2022 season, the Penn State football team is looking for even better results from its offense. Right now, the quarterback, running back, offenisve line, and tight ends all appear to be somewhat in place; however, as the spring goes on, the Lions must figure out who will start and who will sit when it comes to their receivers. The one thing that we do know for sure: KeAndre Lambert-Smith is going to be a crucial factor in Penn State’s passing game this fall.



Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics.

For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at basicbluesnation@gmail.com or direct message us on our social media. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

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