Before departing Penn State, quarterback Sean Clifford left a primer for the young quarterbacks. It included notes like this.
“It’s not just what you see on Saturday,” Clifford said. “It’s who you are on Monday, on the off day when nobody wants to come in the facility and you’ve got to bring all your wideouts in to make sure we’re getting extra film. Or in the middle of summer on a Wednesday night, and you’re trying to get guys up just to get some deep ball work in.”
This is the Sean Clifford whom Penn State will miss in 2023, the Veteran who understands how and when to drive an offense forward. The relationship between Penn State fans and Clifford reached a satisfying conclusion at the Rose Bowl, where Clifford played one of his best college games, buy everyone looks forward to a fresh face and lively arm.
However, Clifford’s departure sends Penn State looking for new leadership at the quarterback position. There’s talent, to be sure, but is there an alpha personality ready to take that Wednesday-in-the-summer leadership?
Let’s take a look at Penn State’s quarterback room in the first installment of our 2023 State of Penn State series.
- Sophomore Drew Allar
- Redshirt freshman Beau Pribula
- Freshman Jaxon Smoli
- Sean Clifford
- Christian Veilleux (transferred to Pitt)
Allar has been anointed the starter (even earning better Heisman odds than teammate Nicholas Singleton) but hasn’t earned the job. Make no mistake: Allar is the leader after winning the No. 2 spot last season and throwing 60 passes in 10 games. No doubt he represents the future of Penn State’s offense.
But when does that future start? Allar has some similarities to Clifford, in that both committed to early offers from Penn State and didn’t waver. Allar in particular demonstrated his commitment by politely declining a flurry of senior-year interest from some of the nation’s top programs.
Allar combines footwork, release, presence, and accuracy into a prototypical bundle that Coach James Franklin said is wrapped in “poise.” Tools-wise, Allar has it. Now he has to develop Clifford’s command of the off-field properties that make quarterbacks special. He has a terrific runway but still needs time.
Pribula, meanwhile, won’t make this easy for Allar. Before the Rose Bowl, the redshirt freshman said he has every intention of competing for the starting job. “He’s going to seize the moment,” Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich said. The duo will go through spring drills together for the second time, although they’re in leadership positions now. It will be fascinating to watch how they respond.
The coaching staff loves their two returning quarterbacks, and Franklin called early enrollee Smolik the “steal” of the 2023 quarterback recruiting class. The Lions have a bright future in that room.
But sometimes the room gets injured or rattled or out of sorts and needs a voice of experience. Clifford brought that presence last season. Franklin certainly would like to bring in an experienced quarterback from the transfer portal, which won’t be easy.
“You prefer to have more than three, there’s no doubt about it,” Franklin said. “I think if you look across the country, whenever you’re in a situation where your starter is a sophomore or less, … it really is a hard sell.”
By the Numbers
0: Interceptions Allar threw on 60 attempts in 2022
2: Passes thrown by receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith (one for a TD)
29: Penn State passing touchdowns last season (Allar had 4)
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32: Career wins for Clifford (most in school history)
10,661: Career passing yards for Clifford (fifth in Big Ten history)
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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button’s on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.