Penn State Football: Blue-White a Reminder Clifford Still Has a Leg Up on Everyone in Quarterback Room

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford throws a pass during the Blue White scrimmage. Photo by Paul Burdick,

For the record, the narrative that five-star prospect and freshman quarterback Drew Allar might upend longtime starter Sean Clifford this fall is born of a collective desire many have to see such a thing occur.

What is to say, people wanted Allar to start has influenced the perception it will actually happen, or it could even happen in the first place.

And of course with a summer of film study and training camp still to go, anything is possible, but a sunny Saturday afternoon in Beaver Stadium seemed to be a reminder that Sean Clifford has played a lot of college football and Drew Allar — whatever his future might hold—has yet to play any.

Saturday’s scrimmage and/or practice was never designed to showcase much of anything, and glimpses both good and bad must be taken with a grain of salt. As Clifford noted after the fact, “it just felt like a practice to me” and every practice has some good and some bad. That’s why you practice.

But even with a limited number of meaningful moments, you saw what any reasonable onlooker might have expected: Clifford looked like a player poised for his fourth year as a starting quarterback; backup Christian Veilleux looked like a new and improved version of himself; and Allar and fellow freshman Beau Pribula both looked like freshmen — occasionally flashing skills that showcased why they ended up at Penn State and mistakes that showcase why so many freshmen quarterbacks aren’t starters.

Away from the field, it was interesting to listen to James Franklin talk about Clifford. Over the years Franklin has always been supportive of Clifford but his reviews of him — sometimes rightfully so — have never been exceedingly glowing. In that light, Saturday’s comments proved to be among Franklin’s most positive on Clifford in quite some time, indirectly stating what perhaps should have been said out loud a long time ago: Clifford is Penn State’s best chance at winning this year, and a lot is going to have to change for that not to be the case.

“Every day we do daily data,” Franklin said on the heels of praising Clifford for having his best month of spring practice of his career. “And then I get a second sheet with cumulative data. So it’s what your eyes tell you, what your experience tells you and then you have the data to back it up to make sure your eyes and experience are driving you and leading you in the right direction.

“You talk about his intercept ratio. You talk about his completion percentage of him. You talk about his explosive play percentage of him. We track it all. We track drop percentage, adjusted drop percentage, all these different things. And as we track missed assignments. … So it’s that feedback and I think it’s also how his teammates are responding. It’s also how he was with the young quarterbacks. I thought he was tremendous.”

To date Franklin has avoided publicly naming Clifford the starting quarterback because there is no particular rush to do so and perhaps because there is no particular reason to assume Clifford wouldn’t be. Even without an official declaration, glimpses of the quarterback competition on Saturday did little to make anyone think it is anything less than a formality at this point.

While Clifford was mostly going through the motions throughout the afternoon, he was everything you have come to expect, both good and bad, although mostly the former. This particular formula might not lead Penn State to a national title in 2022-23, but there was no evidence on Saturday the answer to that larger existential problem was waiting in the wings, fully prepared to step in and make up for Clifford’s occasional shortcomings. Whatever Allar does or does not become, he was far from fully realized on Saturday.

It’s in all of this where Clifford is maybe a bit under appreciated. He has played a ton of football, seen just about everything, played just about everywhere. He has won big games and lost them. There isn’t much left for him to do.

Clifford — finally for the first time in his career playing for the same offensive coordinator for a second season — may never be the player Penn State truly needs to take the next step, but in a world where maintaining any sort of winning is better than the alternatives, Clifford is once again going to give Penn State a chance to win 10 or more games. The Nittany Lions might fail to do so, but Clifford’s collective wisdom is going to give them a chance. That’s more than anyone else in Penn State’s quarterback room can say on April 23, 2022.

“They’re all talented,” Clifford said on Saturday. “[I’ve] just played in a lot of games and college football is just a little bit different. It’s not that they don’t know [anything], it’s more so that they haven’t seen it in a game yet. They know everything. … It’s just different. It’s taking what you get from the meeting room to the field.”

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