In case there was nonetheless any doubt, No. 10 Penn State soccer is a rattling good soccer workforce.
With the electric White Out victory over No. 22 Auburn Saturday evening, the Nittany Lions now sit at 3-0 and possess one of many prime early-season resumes within the nation. After 2020’s struggles, such undisputed success out of the gate wasn’t essentially the expectation for a lot of.
For James Franklin, nevertheless, merely chalking this workforce as much as final yr’s 4-5 document was all the time an unfair analysis.
“I’d hope, if you guys make comparisons, you’re making comparisons to the physique of our work,” Franklin stated. “I believe the physique of our work’s been fairly good.”
It’s robust to argue with Franklin right here. Let’s not neglect that only a yr earlier than the 2020 marketing campaign, which was largely effected by COVID opt-outs and a laundry checklist of accidents, the Nittany Lions went 11-2 and completed with a marquee victory within the Cotton Bowl Traditional. As a first-year starter, Sean Clifford led that yr’s offense by tossing 189 completions price 2,654 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Clifford clearly struggled proper alongside with the Nittany Lions in 2020, as he completed a nine-game marketing campaign with 9 interceptions. His head coach was fast to notice that, regardless of final yr’s inconsistencies, that very same man from 2020 hasn’t gone anyplace.
“He’s taken some criticisms, so I’m tremendous completely satisfied for him,” Franklin stated. “He’s a tough-minded man. He’s bodily robust.”
Franklin added that Clifford made the performs he ought to’ve all evening, but additionally made just a few that stood out as ones he didn’t essentially count on. Most notably, on Penn State’s first rating, the veteran gunslinger ranged to his proper out of the pocket and located Jahan Dotson wide-open behind the tip zone.
“His preparation ought to result in this. That’s not how the world works. Life isn’t honest. However for him proper now, his preparation is main in direction of success and I’m actually completely satisfied for him. He is a good instance for our program,” Franklin added.
Clifford completed his evening with an almost flawless stat line. Outdoors of his interception late within the first half, which successfully ended up a punt for Penn State, the quarterback was environment friendly and decisive within the pocket all evening. He was by no means sacked, had simply 4 incompletions on 32 makes an attempt, and boasted 280 yards by the air together with the 2 scores.
Over the course of three video games to date, the quarterback has completed every with at least 230 passing yards and has racked up 5 complete touchdowns. Clifford isn’t one to shrink back from any critics, however up thus far, his play can do the entire speak for him.
“Final yr wasn’t us. Everyone knew that,” Clifford stated. “Even in the event you didn’t, I’m hoping that we’re proving it now.”
Of all of the expertise on this roster, Clifford needed to deal with a lot of the struggles that got here with a COVID-adjusted soccer season head on. The quarterback was pressured to steer an offense that misplaced its prime two working backs primarily earlier than the season even began, adjusted to a brand new coordinator over Zoom conferences, and couldn’t even get in-person work for a number of months.
Contemplating all of that, it’s robust guilty Clifford for not discovering the identical success he did in 2019. With a revamped offense, that’s loaded with weapons at broad receiver, has bruising rushers in Noah Cain and Keyvone Lee, and budding expertise at tight finish, the Nittany Lion is now flourishing — and reminding everybody precisely who he’s.
For some time this offseason, it could’ve appeared unfair guilty all of final yr on COVID and accidents. An unprecedented 5 straight losses to open the season isn’t typically one thing that simply occurs if you lose a number of key gamers. However with every win that rolls in for the Nittany Lions in 2021, it’s beginning to turn out to be clear that 2020 was actually an anomaly for a workforce that’s stacked with expertise.
Even on protection, Penn State has but to be uncovered at any place. The unit has flourished in opposition to top-tier groups early, and all indicators are pointing to a productive season for Brent Pry’s group.
Other than all the celebs on both facet of the ball, nevertheless, Clifford has proved most that he’s completely the true deal. Already boasting wins over two Energy 5 giants, he and the Nittany Lions are removed from the place they have been final December.
“I’m assured in our workforce. That’s the place I’ve all the arrogance on the planet…It’s unbelievable what our workforce’s doing proper now,” Clifford stated. “It’s enjoyable to come back into work with all these guys.”