Welcome to the 2021 edition of the Sean Clifford passing chart. Each week we'll break down Clifford's passing performance as well as highlight a few key plays, good and bad. Enjoy!
As will be the major theme for the day for Clifford, it was an efficient but controlled performance. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich didn't ask him to do too much through the air, only really dialing up one deep ball. That deep ball, for the record, was to Jahan Dotson who had his man beat. Clifford, however, was both late throwing the pass and underthrew it in the end. We've seen Dotson miss out on multiple sure-touchdowns now after two weeks and while it hasn't come back to bite the Nittany Lions yet, it could.
The focus for the passing game continues to be getting the ball out wide quickly on bubble screens to any of the three starting receivers. Ball State was able to snuff a few of them out, though I expect Yurcich to open up the playbook a bit more against a strong Auburn defense. I also think we'll see a heavy dose of pump-and-go type plays with the bubble screens serving as decoys for deep balls.
While a straightforward day for Clifford, I thought he did well enough with his decision-making. There were multiple instances where he was able to work through his progressions and find the open man, even if that open man was the checkdown route. Unrelated to his passing, I thought he also mostly made the correct decisions in the read-option game which led to a nice day on the ground for the senior quarterback. He also completed a gorgeous throw on a wheel route to Keyvone Lee that we broke down as part of Lee's solid day.
The second half was more or less a formality thanks to a lopsided scoreboard, and Clifford continued to be fed very simple completions for the most part. There isn't much to say about his work in the second half of this one other than that it was more of the same from the first 30 minutes.
I think the passing attack we see against Auburn will look more like what we saw against Wisconsin, though perhaps with more wrinkles now that the team has gotten the chance to get its legs under it, as well as find some room on the ground. However, that doesn't mean that we should expect to see plenty of completions behind the line of scrimmage any time soon. This offense is designed to both showcase talent and let it be the difference-maker. In Dotson, the Nittany Lions have someone who defenders can barely get a hand on. In Parker Washington, Noah Cain, Keyvone Lee, and the tight end duo, they have a stable of guys who defenders don't want to tackle. This group is going to be a lot of fun all season.