You can certainly learn a lot between the first and second games of the season. The way Sean Clifford handled himself in week two under Mike Yurcich’s new system left the impression the offense is heading in the right direction.
Clifford looked in command from the start, helping Penn State jump out to a 14-0 lead to set the tone for a game that was never much in doubt against a quality opponent. While there were a few missed passes that could have resulted in at least a fresh set of down, time after time Clifford made smart decisions and demonstrated early growth from a season ago.
Clifford put up an impressive stat line against one of the top secondaries you will find outside of the Power 5. He completed 72.4% of his passes (21 of 29) for 230 yards and a touchdown. And for the second time in as many weeks, no interceptions or turnovers. The Cardinals defensive game plan relied largely on taking away the deep ball to Jahan Dotson, so Clifford responded by completing passes to 10 different Nittany Lions (while Dotson still managed to lead the team in receiving yards with 65). Clifford regularly looked to Parker Washington, who made several difficult grabs during crucial points to keep drives moving.
Clifford also made wise decisions with his legs, taking what the defense was giving him when he found a lane. He finished with 66 yards rushing on the day, just three shy of team leader Noah Cain, most of which came on a 43-yarder that helped Penn State pull away for good.
DE/LB Jesse Luketa - Luketa has been quietly playing at a high level for some time, but has taken a star turn thus far in 2021. Not only did he do a great job filling in at middle linebacker in place of Ellis Brooks for the first half, he also had the play of the day on a jaw-dropping one-hand snag on a pick six after returning to defensive end in the second half. His score increased the lead to 31-6, and the rout was officially on.
RB Noah Cain - While Cain has always demonstrated the vision to allows him to avoid tacklers and gain additional yardage, he’s added a new level to his shiftiness that will turn many would-be five yard gains into chunk plays. He finished with 99 all-purpose yards, leading the team with 69, and a score, on the ground as he increasingly becomes an asset in the passing game as well.
WR Parker Washington - Washington has done everything asked of him from the very beginning, putting together an outstanding freshman campaign despite next to zero time with the offense prior to the start of the season. In year two, Washington is further developing into a dominant receiver, and scared many upcoming defensive coordinators with several fingertip grabs in clutch situations.