STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The 2021 Penn State offense will be directed by Mike Yurcich, the team’s fourth offensive coordinator in the last five seasons.
The Penn State offense will be operated by quarterback Sean Clifford, who has played for each of those offensive coordinators through this, his fifth year in the program.
So what changes will fans of the Nittany Lions see? Judging from Saturday’s media day at Beaver Stadium, mum’s the word.
“I’m not going to give too much away early but I’m excited about what coach Yurcich brings to this table,” said Clifford, who was then asked if the Lions would pick up the tempo this season.
“We’ll see,” he replied.
The man in charge, Penn State head coach James Franklin, harkened back to the 2016 season under then first-year coordinator Joe Moorhead. The Lions averaged 37.6 points and 432.6 total yards that season, and boosted those totals to 41.1 points and 460.3 yards in 2017.
“When we first got here from Vanderbilt, we had a lot of spread concepts,” Franklin said. “Then we kind of took it to a whole another level with Joe, so we’re back to that, and that’s really kind of who we wanted to be the entire time that we’ve been here with the athletes that we have at receiver and tight end and running back.
“That was another big part of it, is just getting as many guys involved, getting as many guys touches, getting as many guys in space as possible. But then you want to make sure you have the ability to run with power and you want to be able to run in situational football. You want to be able to run the ball when everybody in the stadium knows you have to run the ball and need to run the ball.”
The key to the entire process is Cilfford, who took a step backward in the Lions’ 4-5 season a year ago, losing the ball 12 times on turnovers – nine interceptions, three fumbles. Yurcich, who led Texas to averages of 42.7 points and 475.4 yards last season, said Clifford is willing to learn but added he can get a lot better.
“That’s my job to help him along and to guide him and to give him the information that he needs,” Yurcich said. “We need to apply pressure where it needs to be in practice, give him difficult looks, allow him to fail and figure it out and continue to build his confidence up. I think that’s the process of learning.
“He’s a tremendous leader. Sean is all about helping this team win. He’s willing to do whatever it takes. So therefore, you’ve just got to try to help him. You have to guide him and help him get where he wants to be, and he wants to be great.”
At the moment, one of Clifford’s biggest responsibilities is staying healthy. The one experienced quarterback behind him is redshirt sophomore Ta’Quan Roberson, who has one rush and one pass attempt on his career stats line. Freshman Christian Veilleux is the roster’s other scholarship quarterback.
Asked if he was concerned about injuries running the ball, Clifford replied, “That’s the last thing I probably think about. I’m going to do what I’ve got to do to win the game.”
The Nittany Lions have a crowded running backs room competing for the starting job. Noah Cain is back after missing nearly all of last season with a broken foot. Keyvone Lee rushed for a team season-high 134 yards against Michigan as a freshman. John Lovett, a South Jersey native who gained 1,803 rush yards in his career at Baylor, came in as a transfer.
Add wide receivers Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington, and the offense appears ready to make an impression, even if it’s under wraps for now. But Yurcich does have a vision for the attack that he can share.
“What we want to be is a tough, smart and skilled offense,” he said. “That’s what we want to be. When the defensive coordinator walks off the field, we want him to say, ‘Man, that was a physical, tough offense. They were really smart. They knew their system very well. Their technique was good. They were skilled.’ So if he says those things, then we did our job.”