STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania – Looking for a way to ensure that what they went through in 2020 doesn’t repeat itself, Penn State’s veteran players let it know they wanted their off-season training harder is experienced than before.
Quarterback Sean Clifford and other members of the Nittany Lions’ Leadership Council – a group of players from each class – said a change was needed to rebuild the team’s culture affected by the COVID season and they discussed this with the head coach James Franklin.
“I felt like our culture slipped from the perspective of leadership over the past year,” Clifford said in a Zoom interview with reporters this week. “We found excuses for things because of COVID. This is not how we run our program.
“We went straight to Franklin and said we needed to be pushed. We will have no backlash, no lawsuits. We will make sure we work hard. The team responded very well to this. We had a great off-season. It pays off week after week. We have to keep it going. You have to fight for your culture every day. “
Clifford said the COVID restrictions and player segregation for spring and much of summer 2020 were “strange times for everyone”.
“I think it was just over time just not being around the guys,” he said. “I won’t be doing so much last year because it’s over. We just haven’t had the time to spend together and the opportunities to be together as we normally do. It just changed. I can’t pinpoint the time. “
Senior defensive end / linebacker Jesse Luketa felt his team needed the emotional and physical stress of the harder workouts where each player could “really see who you are as an individual”.
“It brought us closer together,” said Luketa. “I feel like adversity brings you and your family together. It’s just right. So I thought this off-season was one of the best since I’ve been here. It brought us together. We are a tight-knit group. And we are tough, mentally tough. “
The Lions were more upbeat and united than they were in 2020, going from a 0-4 start a year ago to a 4-0 opener and a No. 4 this season culminating in Saturday night’s game against Indiana at Beaver Stadium .
Clifford has made a significant contribution to the quick start of his team, especially in the last two weeks. He completed 28 of 32 passes – a completion rate of 87.5%, the highest rate by a Penn State quarterback in 25 years – for 280 yards in defeating Auburn. He threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns the following week against Villanova, hitting each of his 12 passes to 12 goals to Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington in victory.
On Saturday night, Clifford ranked in the top 20 nationwide for pass efficiency (14th), completion percentage (71.7, 14th), pass height (289.5, 17th), yards per attempt (9.65, 12th), and Total crime (309.2, 20th)).
Clifford said he had a good experience with new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.
“It’s good,” he said. “He does a really good job of getting information to me quickly and effectively, especially when I need it. He also does a really good job of calming me down, but also cheering me on when I need it. So he has a really good balance. “
The sophomore defensive tackle Hakeem Beamon, believed to be a strong candidate for a role on the defensive line rotation, was deemed “unavailable” for the remainder of the season, head coach James Franklin said .
“He won’t be available this week or this season,” Franklin said of his weekly availability on Wednesday night. “Hakeem loves football so he is always good in practice because he loves to play football, but he won’t be available this week and he won’t be available for the season.”
The 6-foot-3,276-pound Beamon has played 11 games in the past two seasons and posted a personal best with three tackles against Iowa last year.