Penn State took a few weeks off following the Blue-White Game, a period away quarterback Sean Clifford said was well-deserved. But Clifford already and his teammates already are prepared to return for summer workouts.
"We have a plan, we have a purpose and we're here to beat Purdue that Week 1," Clifford said.
Penn State capped what players and head coach James Franklin called a successful set of spring practices at the Blue-White Game, where Clifford clearly was a conductor. The presumptive fourth-year starting quarterback set the tone on-field and off for a team with plenty to prove. Clifford placed himself atop that list.
The quarterback said he wasn't the same after leaving the Iowa game last October with what he termed a "brutal" injury. Penn State lost a 17-3 lead, then lost five of its next seven games in the most disappointing season of Franklin's tenure. Clifford's health clearly was a factor, something the quarterback discussed after the Blue-White Game.
"Consistency was the No. 1 thing, just because last year I felt fantastic going through the first half of the season up to the Iowa game," Clifford said. "To be completely transparent, the minute that I got injured, I just didn't feel the same. I wasn’t consistent, I wasn’t coming out and being the same guy that I was.
"I was playing at a high level early, and we were playing at a high level early as an offense. And then it was like, when I got that injury, I kind of took a step back. And it took a little bit for me, because it was such a brutal injury."
Clifford said he felt great during spring drills, which Franklin called the best of the quarterback's career at Penn State. Clifford demonstrated the value of being a veteran quarterback in the same offense for a second consecutive year, which Franklin said was clear through spring.
"Getting a veteran quarterback like Sean Clifford, with the same offensive coordinator for two years and being able to mentor two, really three, talented underclass quarterbacks, all these things gain value," Franklin said.
However, Clifford wants to be more than a mentor this season. He left unfinished business on the field at Iowa last year, a feeling that lingered throughout the season.
"I took a step back [after the injury]," Clifford said. "I can't do that. I have to be consistent all the way through. ... It was definitely physical. I've played a lot of football, I've taken a lot of hits, I know what a hit feels like. I'm not scared of a hit. At the same time, things happen."
What if Clifford stays healthy this season? He promises that "second-year-in-the-system confidence" that many quarterbacks channel into huge improvements in their game.
Clifford also has the confidence of his head coach and offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich, to run the offense freely.
"I feel like I’ve seen every look in this offense specifically, I know the terminology like it’s the back of my hand, I know what plays we want to be in for certain looks and when we get a look that I don’t like, and I know the checks to get us out of those looks," Clifford said. "... You’re going to see me at the line talking to the offensive linemen a lot more, making sure that we’re in the right play 95-100 percent of the time. I can make sure that we’re always in the right play on the field and make those checks. Coach Franklin and coach Yurcich have both given me a lot of freedom and responsibility, and I’m up for the challenge every single time."
Asked what he's still learning, Clifford responded with a question of his own. "Can Tom Brady still learn things in year 22?" The quarterback said that process will continue through the summer, for which he and his teammates already have established a schedule.
"Once we come back it was reiterated very sternly that we’re going to make sure that we right the ship," Clifford said. "... We're not done at all. We have a season to play, we have Purdue to beat and we're excited. We're excited for the summit."
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.