Sean Clifford, Penn State offense looking for improvement

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford considers himself a good communicator, but he’s found connecting with his younger teammates to be a bit tougher this spring.

He attributes it to the age gap. Now in his sixth season with the Nittany Lions and fourth as their starter, Clifford said he feels like an “old man” at 23 since he’s surrounded by so many fresh-faced 18- and 19-year-olds.

“It’s a different generation,” Clifford said. “It really is. When I ask, `Hey, what’s your number?’ They’re like, `Hey can I get your Snapchat?’ I’m like, `Is this how we communicate these days? Give me an email or something!’ It’s funny.”

Minus that, spring ball has been pretty smooth compared to what Clifford is accustomed to. For the first time in what seems like forever, he didn’t have to start a new year by learning a new playbook. Penn State has had four offensive coordinators and three quarterback coaches since Clifford arrived on campus in 2017.

Last fall, under first-year coordinator Mike Yurcich, the Nittany Lions finished 82nd in total offense and 90th in scoring. Oftentimes, Clifford throwing to now-departed receiver Jahan Dotson was Penn State’s only offensive outlet. The Nittany Lions finished 118th in rushing offense and ran for just 11 touchdowns.

Clifford got banged-up down the stretch but still completed 61% of his passes for 3,107 yards with 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Penn State finished 26th in passing offense.

That’s in the rearview mirror.

“If I go back to last year, I think it’s a distraction and I don’t think it really is pertinent to our mission to improve this spring,” Yurcich said. “We’re going to execute better, we’re going to coach better, we’re going to play better.”

Clifford already feels the offense trending in that direction, even if the Nittany Lions only played with a handful of healthy offensive linemen this spring.

“I’ve always had to re-learn offense or learn a new one,” Clifford said. “Now, being able to be in the same one back-to-back years, it just makes my job a lot easier and really be able to master the offense in the spring instead of learn it in the spring and then do it in the fall. We’re so much farther ahead now.”

Penn State coach James Franklin believes Clifford had his most productive spring practice. His practice numbers were the best they’ve been in nearly every category.

“You talk about his interception ratio, you talk about his completion percentage, you talk about his explosive play percentage, we track it all,” Franklin said. “I thought he was tremendous.”

Clifford had most of the last week of practice off to give freshmen Drew Allar, Beau Pribulla and Christian Veilleux more chances to work.

The Nittany Lions concluded their spring with a scrimmage on Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Clifford was sharp in the game’s 11-on-11 segment. He went 4 for 7 for 41 yards and tossed the game’s only touchdown pass – a tight swing to newcomer Mitchell Tinsley for 13 yards.

Tinsley, a fifth-year senior who transferred from Western Kentucky, even looked a bit Dotson-like on the play, wearing No. 5, snagging the ball in stride, and zipping through downfield blocks to score. He’s been rooming with Clifford and will join KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Parker Washington and a handful of tight ends as options for Clifford.

Clifford plans to hook up with all of them this summer and left the locker room on Saturday with an edict.

“I just told them,” Clifford said. “We’ll have three weeks of player-led stuff. It’s mandatory for us. It’s not mandatory from the coaches. It’s not mandatory from the strength staff. No one is telling us to do anything. It’s mandatory for us because we know the talent we have and we know what we can do this year so guys are ready.”

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:


The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.


The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.


The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.


The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.


After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.