Clifford looks for big return in ’22
UNIVERSITY PARK — James Franklin proclaimed veteran Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford had his “best spring.”
Part of that, Clifford believes, is a return to full health.
Clifford and the Nittany Lions got off to an impressive 5-0 start last year before Clifford was decked at Iowa, turning a 17-3 lead into a messy 23-20 loss.
Though he returned to start the rest of the games, Clifford, wore a protective vest, and his right side — throwing shoulder and ribs — along with his mobility seemed compromised.
The sixth-year senior can admit now that “I just didn’t feel the same.”
Clifford was clear after Saturday’s Blue-White Game that “I don’t want to make excuses; I’m just being transparent” — but he believes he’ll return to his 2019 and early 2021 form.
“Last year I felt fantastic going to the first half of the season until I got injured,” he said. “I was playing at a high level early, and we were as an offense. And then I took a step back.”
Penn State skidded to six losses in its last eight games, but Clifford feels he and the team have turned the page.
“I have to be the same guy with consistency,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing that, and I feel like this team is doing it.”
Clifford completed 4-of-7 passes Saturday for 41 yards and a touchdown during the live periods. Projected backup Christian Veilleux hit 5-of-14 for 75 yards.
Decorated true freshman Drew Allar went 6-for-14 for 61 yards but was intercepted twice. Fellow frosh Beau Pribula was 2-for-3 for 7 yards and sacked twice.
Franklin said afterward that Clifford attempted 201 passes during spring practice sessions. Veilleux tried 183, Allar 143 and Pribula 132.
Offensive player of the game: With one touchdown and two field goals, there wasn’t one.
Defensive player of the game: Walk-on Dominic DeLuca had two tackles, including a sack. He also returned an interception 39 yards and intercepted another pass during skeleton drills. Linebacker Koby King led all tacklers with five stops.
Play of the game: The game lacked a wow moment, but Zakee Wheatley’s breakup of a floating Pribula pass on the game’s final play, intended for Omari Evans, sealed a 17-13 victory for the defense. Wheatley broke up three passes on the day.
Best pass: Veilleux threw a 36-yard reception up the left sideline to converted quarterback Mason Stahl during 7-on-7s.
Best catch: Redshirt freshman Harrison Wallace III made a nifty snag of a short touchdown reception from Clifford during skeleton drills.
Best run: Tackling was limited so this category doesn’t count. It’s notable that heralded freshman Nick Singleton got the first goal-line opportunity and scored during an early skeleton drill.
Best idea: Playing music throughout the game to break the monotony of a scrimmage.
Penn State’s spring awards were presented during the brief halftime.
Offensive tackle Olu Fashanu won the Red Worrell Award, presented to the Lions’ most improved offensive player. Safety Ji’Ayir Brown won the Jim O’Hora Award for most improved defensive player. Punter-holder candidate Barney Amor won the special teams award, and the Frank Patrick total commitment award was shared by defensive end Nick Tarburton and tight end Tyler Warren.
Defensive end Adisa Isaac, returning from a knee injury that cost him the 2021 season, was credited for a tackle for loss.
Franklin on depth: “At a lot of positions, I’m not ready to say we’re as talented with the starters that we’ve ever been, but we have positions where our depth is as good as it’s been where the drop off is not as significant to the No. 2s and No. 3s.”
The game was officiated by an all-female crew … PSU listed attendance at 63,000 … Among the ex-Nittany Lions on the sidelines were LaVar Arrington, Micah Parsons, Odafe Oweh and current Steeler Pat Freiermuth … The entire freshman 2022 was introduced to the crowd prior to the game.