Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford wields the Big Ten's second-highest passer rating (171.68) through four weeks, a remarkable illustration of his 2021 turnaround. Clifford has flourished in coordinator Mike Yurcich's offense, which includes one impactful gameday change.
Yurcich is Clifford's first coordinator to coach from the sideline, which the quarterback said has made a difference to his performance.
"He does a really good job relaying information quickly and effectively to me, especially when I need it," Clifford said before the Penn State-Indiana game. "He also does a really good job of keeping me calm but also firing me up when I need to. He's got a really good balance to him with that."
Clifford's previous coordinators (Ricky Rahne and Kirk Ciarrocca) spent gamedays in the coaches' box, from which they called plays and spoke to the quarterbacks via headsets. Before the season, Yurcich said he prefers communicating with players and coaches on the field.
"It's important from a leadership standpoint to be able to rally the troops," Yurcich said at Penn State's football media day in August, “and to be able to look Cliff in the eye and be able to have a good conversation with him, as well as clear communication with any adjustments we need on the field."
So far, the partnership has paid dividends. Clifford is one of two Big Ten quarterbacks (with Maryland's Taulia Tagovailoa) with completion rates above 70 percent and passer ratings above 170.
Clifford has completed above 70 percent of his passes in three of four games, and his 87.5-percent rate was Penn State's highest since at least 2000. Against Villanova, Clifford became the first Penn State quarterback to throw for 400 yards at Beaver Stadium.
Clifford has acknowledged his belief in the offense ("I'm the most confident quarterback in the country," he said before the season), and Yurcich has noticed. "He's come a far way in a short period of time," the coordinator said in an interview with Penn State's in-house video staff, "and I can't wait to see how much further we can go."
"Cliff has always had a bunch of confidence since the day I met him, so I've never really seen that falter or waver in any way," Yurcich said. "But it is nice to see the rhythm that he's having and see him getting in the groove."
For Clifford and Yurcich, the gameday approach appears to be working.
"It's a lot of fun to have a coach on the sideline," Clifford said. "It makes life a little bit easier for me just because you don't have to relay information up to the box. It's been a good experience so far."
Penn State hosts Indiana at 7:40 p.m. ET Saturday at Beaver Stadium.