If you’re ready to love Penn State football again after the dismal 2020 season, we’re here to help you count the reasons.
Penn State opens the 2021 season on Saturday at No.12 in Wisconsin, where it has to answer a bunch of questions: Will the new offense be ready? Has quarterback Sean Clifford hit the offseason reset button? Can the defense avoid giving more than 30 points in five consecutive games?
But you want hope and promise, so let’s deliver it. Why be optimistic about Lions? Here are five reasons.
The Nittany Lions really love each other this season
Several players, including veterans Jahan Dotson, Rasheed Walker and Jordan Stout, have called the team the tightest they’ve played on. Even if they try to massage a message, the sentiment rings a little different, especially after the outbursts that appeared during the 2020 season.
“Since I’ve been here, I feel like this is the closest team from a relationship standpoint,” said Walker, who is in his fourth year on the program.
“This team is closer than any team I’ve been on,” said Dotson, a fourth-year wide receiver.
“I feel like we’re closer than that  team [that went 11-2]senior safety Jaquan Brisker added.
Franklin was reluctant to compare the chemistry of this team to others he coached, especially the 2020 squad whose team building opportunities were extremely limited. But Franklin noted that on Monday, their scheduled day off, most of the players were together in the football building.
“Is this team closer than any team I’ve been with, or does they just feel glorified after going through what we’ve been through last year?” Franklin asked. “I’m not really sure, and I don’t know if it’s fair to compare and contrast. But anyway, I think we have a very close team, and it’s not just the players. C ‘is the staff, it’s all of us in this thing together. And that usually translates into good things for you. “
Sean Clifford “just playing ball now”
Safety Jaquan Brisker recently told State College reporters that he expects Clifford to be “the best quarterback in all of college football.” according to Blue-White Illustrated. Bold prediction, yes. But Clifford has made progress this offseason.
After last season, in which he was sacked 22 times and part of 12 turnovers, Clifford got a new voice from offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. His teammates have noticed a tangible difference.
“The largest area [of Yurcich’s impact] I feel like it’s the decision making, “said Dotson.” Coach Yurcich, when he arrived his point of emphasis was that Sean is such a vocal leader, such a great leader on the pitch, and he felt like Sean had a lot on his plate too. He worried too much. And I feel like he did a great job this offseason where he just took off his shoulders and he’s just playing ball now. And that’s how he got here. …. That’s literally how he got here, just playing ball. ”
Franklin noticed how aggressively Yurcich coached Clifford, trying to reflect the stress the quarterback will face on game days. “I think in a lot of ways it’s been good for Sean,” Franklin said.
Just like the offensive led by Yurich. The belief at Penn State is that Yurcich can get the best out of Clifford, especially in the game’s greatest moments.
“For the most part, everyone in college football, and now the NFL, are all running the same projects,” Franklin said. “It’s about the way you pack them. Mike has obviously been very successful in the way he packs the games that almost everyone plays.
“Plus, there are 4-6 calls in a game where you are going to differentiate yourself from the rest. Statistically Mike has been able to do that over the course of his career.”
Quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson “opened a lot of eyes” in the camp
Redshirt sophomore Ta’Quan Roberson secured second place behind Clifford after taking about 90% of the reps there, according to Franklin. And he showed promise.
Roberson still has a long way to go, having played sparingly in just two games over the past two seasons and throwing just one pass. Still, Franklin said Roberson made gains in training camp. This is important for a program that has only three-quarters of scholarships and which has fully placed its hopes for 2021 on Clifford.
“He did some really great things,” Franklin said of Roberson. “He’s cast for a high percentage. For a while there, his [rate of] the attempts without and the interception was ridiculously high. The ball jumps out of his hand. When he is sure of what to do before hanging, he is very effective after hanging. It always makes him very confident before the shot with what we’re trying to do and why and how. But I think he’s opened a lot of eyes in this camp, and we would like to have him representatives where we can, meaningful representatives in games. “
The secondary will be a major asset
Penn State defensive backs have the best collection of experience and young talent on the list. The group combined to start 54 Power 5 games, with transfers from Johnny Dixon (South Carolina) and AJ Lytton (Florida State) bringing plenty of reps to State College.
Meanwhile, high school is also home to some of the best freshmen who are expected to win some playing time. Cornerback Kalen King has earned a spot in the rotation since spring drills, and safety Jaylen Reed has won praise during training camp. Both are products of Detroit: King from Cass Tech, Reed from Martin Luther King Jr. High.
Senior safety Jaquan Brisker is the primary name in high school, but cornerbacks Joey Porter Jr. and Tariq Castro-Fields could be the Big Ten’s best tandem at this position. Penn State has the ability to play multiple packages using an additional defensive back (including King, Keaton Ellis, and Daequan Hardy) and veterans to lean on in varying covers.
With that group, Penn State is unlikely to be ninth in the Big Ten forcing turnovers.
Arnold Ebiketie could be Penn State star in 2021
The former defensive end of all Temple conferences could become the most important player to join the Penn State roster during the offseason. Ebiketie not only won a starting spot at a position of need, but was also a standout training camp.
“One thing about AK, he’s extremely fast,” Walker said. “When you block someone who’s that fast every day it forces you to play faster. I can honestly say I don’t think I’m going to see someone in the Big Ten who can move like AK.”
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