QB Clifford performs well in first start

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford passes over Idaho linebacker Leo Tamba during the Nittany Lions’ season-opening win Saturday.

STATE COLLEGE – Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and his brother, Liam, won’t officially be reunited in State College until the 2021 season, but the sibling duo is using its time together this spring to work on its chemistry.

As Liam Clifford prepares to enter his season at wide receiver for St. Xavier High (Cincinnati, Ohio), he’s been the recent recipient of his Division I brother’s passes as the two work to ensure their respective skill sets don’t atrophy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Liam Clifford verbally committed to Penn State last October.

“I like to talk about how I have a little bit of a leg up with my brother being in my family, committed to the same school,” Sean Clifford said on Wednesday. “I think that’s definitely been a plus for me. Being able to work with Liam has been great and definitely beneficial for the both of us.”

Penn State tabbed the elder Clifford as it starting quarterback last fall. He passed for 2,654 yards and 23 touchdowns against seven interceptions in his inaugural season as the starter. Then-Nittany Lions’ offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne utilized Clifford’s abilities as a runner as the rising redshirt junior rushed for 402 yards and five touchdowns.

Rahne in December departed Happy Valley for Old Dominion University as head coach, and Penn State later that month announced Minnesota Golden Gophers’ offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca as Rahne’s replacement.

While Clifford is unable to receive in-person work and reps with Ciarrocca, he said he believes he’s already become a “better player without even throwing a pass with him.”

Clifford said learning from Ciarrocca during this period has included film sessions, note-taking and even a mock Jeopardy! session.

“It’s definitely been an interesting dynamic,” Clifford said. “I think that everybody realizes that now that there’s a lot going on. But overall, I think we’ve done a good job with the Zoom calls, making sure that everybody’s staying accountable. Coach Ciarrocca has done a great job of doing that in our room and within the offense. I’ve learned a lot, to say the least.”

Earlier this spring, Ciarrocca complimented his new players’ flexibility and ability to adapt to the unforeseen circumstance that halted spring practices and their chance to learn the new offensive face-to-face.

“I think the one thing that our players have shown right now is their ability to respond to the situation,” Ciarrocca said in April. “That’s really a tribute to Coach (James) Franklin and the championship culture that he’s built here at Penn State. We’ve been presented with a situation, and now we have to attack what we have to work with.”

Liam Clifford has given the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback an in-house receiver to work with during his extended time away from Penn State. Despite the distance and their time apart, Sean Clifford said he's been able been able to accesses and analyze Nittany Lions receivers' progression this spring through virtual means.

“Communication has been constant, honestly,” Sean Clifford said. “We’re texting, sending videos. The wide receivers will send me videos of their route running, so that way I can start to visualize where they’re going to be, especially because we haven’t gotten those spring ball reps. Just trying to find the smallest things to make ourselves better.”

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