Penn State QB Sean Clifford is on the cusp of history, but how much action will Drew Allar see in 2022 season?

Penn State QB Sean Clifford is on the cusp of history, but how much action will Drew Allar see in 2022 season?

Sean Clifford is 2,061 yards away from passing former teammate Trace McSorley and becoming the all-time leading passer in Penn State football history, yet there’s a large portion of the fanbase upset he has a chance to break the record. Clifford is returning to Happy Valley for his sixth season and fourth as the starter, but with five-star freshman Drew Allar waiting in the wings, some of the Nittany Lions faithful are ready to move on.

It’s not hard to blame them for feeling that way, either. After going 11-2 in Clifford’s first season as a starter and winning the Cotton Bowl, Penn State has regressed along with Clifford the last two seasons while compiling an 11-11 record over that span. Statistically, it’s hard to find an area where Clifford has even maintained his performance level in 2019, let alone improved upon it.

While his completion rate has increased each season, his yards per attempt and touchdown rate have shrunk. However, while it’s easy to point at Clifford and declare him the problem, it’s not a fair judgment. First of all, considering the ridiculous conditions in which teams were forced to play during the 2020 season — particularly in the Big Ten, where the season suddenly stopped and started again — we probably shouldn’t hold anything against individual performances. Pandemic aside (if only it were that easy), Clifford has been tasked with playing behind an offensive line that has regressed far more than he has.

During the 2019 season, Penn State’s offensive line ranked 48th nationally in Football Outsiders’ Line Yards metric. In 2020, it improved slightly to 47th before falling off a cliff in 2021, ranking 116th. As you would expect, Penn State’s rushing attack went with it. During the 2019 season, the Nittany Lions offense ranked 13th nationally in EPA rushing. In 2020, it ranked 101st. Last season, it was 126th.

And just in case the lack of an excellent offensive line or run game wasn’t enough to make Clifford’s life far more complicated, let’s not forget that the 2022 season will be the first time in his tenure as the starter that he hasn’t worked under a new offensive coordinator. Ricky Rahne ran the Penn State offense in 2019 before leaving to take over Old Dominion. Kirk Ciarocca replaced Rahne in 2020, and he lasted only the one COVID-shortened campaign before Mike Yurcich came from Texas to run the Penn State offense last season.

Still, while those have all been obstacles for Clifford to overcome, it’s not as if he’s a quarterback without his deficiencies. One of the most significant factors is his inability to push the ball down the field vertically in the passing attack. Among 34 Big Ten quarterbacks who have thrown at least 100 passes since the 2019 season, Clifford ranks 12th in passing efficiency (170.8), 22nd in completion rate (39.5%), and 25th in interception rate (6.7%) on passes of at least 15 air yards (yards past the line of scrimmage). One could argue that while Penn State has struggled to run the ball effectively the last couple of years, defenses not having to fear being beaten over the top likely contributors.

It’s that lack of vertical threat that helps spur support for Allar, who was rated as the No. 3 recruit in the 2022 class according to the 247Sports Composite, with recruiting analyst Gabe Brooks comparing him to Josh Allen thanks in part to his “big- armed vertical juice.”

I’ve watched a lot of Clifford during his career. “Big-armed vertical juice” is not a phrase that often comes to mind. When Penn State fans read scouting reports like that, it’s hard to blame them for salivating at the idea of ​​Allar firing heat-seeking missiles all over Beaver Stadium for the next three years.

When you look around the country at the programs that are thriving and competing for conference titles and College Football Playoff berths, nearly every one of them has the rocket-armed QB with the potential to be a first-round pick. Seeing that, of course Penn State fans look at Allar and see him as The Chosen One sent by the college football gods to restore the program to glory, or at the very least make them forget about those glorious six months in 2017 when Justin Fields was committed. Unfortunately, while the hope is understandable, the reality is different.

Clifford will be Penn State’s starter when the Nittany Lions line up against Purdue on Thursday, Sept. 1, and Allar might not even be No. 2 on the depth chart given how James Franklin has talked up Christian Veilleux. Clifford didn’t return to Penn State to serve as a mentor on the sideline or to convince Allar to join his NIL agency. He came back to be the team’s starting QB. Given that the Nittany Lions are only 11-11 the last two seasons, and James Franklin could soon feel the heat on his seat turning up if they don’t improve in 2022, you can understand why Franklin might hesitate to hand the reins to an inexperienced freshman QB — especially when two of your first three games are on the road against Purdue and Auburn.

The better question is whether Allar will play enough to burn his redshirt in 2022. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Allar appear in nonconference home games against Ohio and Central Michigan should the Nittany Lions build a comfortable lead, but Penn State fans shouldn ‘t expect much more than that. The 2022 Penn State QB situation is a lot more reminiscent of the 2020 Alabama situation where Bryce Young saw some time behind Mac Jones than it is the 2018 Clemson situation where Kelly Bryant saw the writing on the wall, and it clearly stated, “TREVOR LAWRENCE “before Bryant shut it down and redshirted the rest of the season.

None of which is to say that Allar won’t start any games in 2022. It’s possible, but it’s far more likely that Sean Clifford will become Penn State’s all-time leading passer.

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