STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP)New Penn State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich isn’t sure how long it’ll take the Nittany Lions to fully learn and implement his schemes.
The team’s third offensive coordinator in three seasons, Yurcich does know he’s on a tight deadline.
”Week 1 against Wisconsin, how good they’re coached on defense, how talented they are on defense, at their place? That’s a challenge in itself,” Yurcich said before Penn State’s second camp practice Saturday. ”However explosive we have to be to win that game is what we want to be. Whatever that entails, that’s the goal.”
A controversial opening loss to Indiana last year snowballed into five straight defeats – the team’s worst start in its 134-year history – before Penn State won its last four games. Penn State players believe they can pick up where they left off and prove last year’s 4-5 finish was an aberration.
”The sky’s the limit for this team,” receiver Jahan Dotson said. ”We have all the pieces, we just need to put them in place.”
Quarterback Sean Clifford echoed his favorite target. His experience learning former offensive coordinator Kirck Ciarrocca’s offense and Yurcich’s are night and day.
COVID-19 wiped out spring practice and traditional training camp last year. Instead, Clifford only had Zoom sessions and fragmented mini practices to prepare for the season with a largely new supporting cast around him.
Yurcich, whose offenses at Oklahoma State from 2013-18 were among the top 10 nationally in scoring (38), passing yards per game (315.9) and total offense (478.6), has been on the job in the traditional sense much longer. Penn State had 15 spring practices in April with Yurcich guiding the offense
Clifford grinned and rubbed his chin as he was asked about the new offense’s specifics. He knows more than he’s willing to let on, and as Yurcich would say, that’s a good thing.
”I think we’ve had a killer summer,” Clifford said. ”There’s a lot more tape you can watch, a lot more drills we can run. I think our offense is in a really good spot now, but we’re going to keep trending upwards. That’s the goal. You plateau then you trend (upward) so that way you’re always getting better.”
That’s not what transpired last season.
While Penn State finished second in scoring in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions finished at minus-8 in turnover margin, gave up 28 sacks and tried alternating quarterbacks to alleviate the pressure on Clifford who was beaten up physically and mentally.
”I know my role is important,” Clifford said. ”I know that there were times last year where I didn’t play up to my expectations. I’m not going to deny what happened last season, but I’m also not going to harp on it. This is 2021. I’m a very confident quarterback with a very confident football team and we’re just excited to keep getting better.”
That tone immediately won Yurcich over.
”Any quarterback that has his demeanor and attitude and willingness to learn and understands every day that there’s something more to attain, his ceiling is very high,” Yurcich said. ”I think he can get a lot better and that’s my job to help him along and to guide him and give him the information he needs.”
That’s going to come in the form of some tough love.
Yurcich said part of redeveloping his quarterback will involve breaking him down by giving him tough looks in practice, sending blitzers, forcing Clifford to make the mistakes he made in games last season.
”Allow him to fail and figure it out and then continue to build his confidence up,” Yurcich said. ”I think that’s the process of learning.”