The annual Blue-White game was replaced by a closed-to-the-public spring practice in Beaver Stadium. It wasn’t the conclusion of spring practice, some fans were in the stands for the first time and it was the closest a Penn State event has felt to normal during the pandemic.
As far as the on-field product, fans will find some familiarity between 2020’s makeup and this new 2021 team. There is still a lot left to figure out at the quarterback position; freshman are stepping up in a big way; the defense looks to be better than advertised. Plus, Penn State debuted two new coordinators in Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich and Co-Defensive Coordinator Anthony Poindexter.
QB Sean Clifford took snaps with the first-team offense on Saturday. At times he looked thrown off by the relentless pressure and indecisive. While he wasn’t trying to rush on every snap, Clifford often rolled out of the pocket, threw far downfield, missing his receivers or tossing it out of bounds. As he took more snaps, he seemed to adjust and started to throw some cleaner balls.
Sean Clifford has attempted two deep balls this first drive. One incomplete with PI, one complete to Cam Sullivan Brown.— Allie Berube (@allieberube) April 17, 2021
Overthrew receiver in the end zone from inside the 10. Seems off in his accuracy in this first drive. #PennState
It’s no secret the QB situation in 2020 was a bit of a mess for Penn State. Last season Clifford completed around 60 percent of his passes for 1,883 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Penn State jumped out to it’s worst start in school history at 0-5 before winning its last four games. Many attributed the early losses to a lack of performance from Clifford, at times putting Penn State in some difficult situations.
The shining star of the afternoon? Freshman Kalen King emerged as the guy to watch in 2021. The early enrollee picked off Ta’Quan Roberson and ran it back for a touchdown to start the scrimmage portion of practice. Then the true freshman picked off Clifford towards the end of practice.
If this Penn State defense can collapse the pocket and get to the QB as well as they’re doing against their own offense… it’s going to be another year where the defense keeps PSU in some games.— Allie Berube (@allieberube) April 17, 2021
Overall, Head Coach James Franklin seemed pleased with the progress and has one more week to improve before a couple months off.
“I think we’ve laid a really good foundation,” Franklin said. “These next three practices will be important, because we’ve been heavy install, pretty much for 12 practices, this will allow us these last three to kind of go back and refine some of the finer details. You know and then I think the thing I’ve always felt is, you know, the run game is something that you’d like to leave the spring feel good about, because it’s hard to make improvements in that. Before you get back to training camp and the passing game, there’s a lot of things you can work on, on your own, you know, the rest of the spring and the summer.”
Some more positive news for Penn State: this was the first time students have been inside Beaver Stadium since 2019. The school allowing first-year students to attend the scrimmage; announced attendance was 7,521 fans inside Beaver Stadium on Saturday, including guests of players and coaches.
Bringing some star power to the building, many recent Penn State products playing in the NFL were in Happy Valley. Eagles Miles Sanders, Panthers Yetur Gross-Matos, Broncos KJ Hamler, Steelers Marcus Allen and others returned to campus. Pat Freiermuth was also introduced inside the stadium, the tight end awaits his NFL future in the 2021 Draft later in April.
Some notes from the first hour:— Allie Berube (@allieberube) April 17, 2021
– Marquis Wilson was working out with WR as he has throughout spring practice (he’s played two seasons at CB for Penn State)
– RB Noah Cain has returned to practice field this spring, in pads today
– the Beaver Stadium playlist is good (cc: @psuPJ)
Penn State was set to finish practice with this Beaver Stadium Saturday afternoon event, but instead announced it has one final week of practice to go. Franklin said the team will most likely practice Monday, Wednesday and Friday under the lights to complete the 15-alloted practices of the spring season.