Sean Clifford leads Penn State football to a “character win,” over Purdue

Story posted September 2, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Alex Rocco

Midway through the second quarter, quarterback Sean Clifford was drilled in the pocket and appeared to injure his knee in Penn State’s 35-31 victory over Purdue on Thursday night. He stayed in the game, and on the drive, he gutted his way into the endzone for a three-yard score.

However, near the end of the second quarter, Clifford disappeared into the Penn State locker room, prompting James Franklin to make a change.

Replacing the sixth-year senior was true freshman and five-star Drew Allar, who received his first experience of Big Ten play in his first collegiate game.

Clifford was out of the contest for 26 minutes due to cramps, as Franklin confirmed after the game. He received an IV during halftime but jogged onto the field for the second half but continued to experience cramps, allowing Allar to see the field.

Although Allar played in just one drive, he displayed all the tools Penn State fans have heard about since his commitment in March of 2021.

The Medina, Ohio, native was calm in the pocket despite being thrown right into the fire and his arm talent was as good as expected. 

Allar finished the game, completing two of four passes for 26 yards.

When Clifford re-entered the contest, he didn’t receive any cheers from the Nittany Lion fans in attendance in West Lafayette, and the fans at home took to social media to show their displeasure about his return to the game over Allar.

Before leaving the game, the sixth-year quarterback, or “38-year-old senior” as Franklin called him, found success while often facing a heavy blitz from Purdue. 

The offense struggled in Clifford’s first two drives back before he connected with wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith for a 29-yard score giving the blue and white a 28-24 lead. 

Penn State seemed to have all the momentum after the touchdown as it forced a big defensive stop and allowed the offensive to advance its lead.

But that’s not what happened.

With under nine minutes remaining in the game, Clifford dropped back to pass and facing little pressure, completely overthrew a wide-open Mitchell Tinsley as the ball soared right into the hands of Chris Jefferson, who returned it for a pick-six.
Several times last season, Clifford tossed interceptions in the late stages of the game, and besides the pick, he played turnover-free football, tallying finishing with 282 yards, four touchdowns and a 148.3 passer rating.

The interception was demoralizing as the Nittany Lions had the chance to advance their lead to scores, but it was the Boilermakers who took a 31-28.

“I’ve overcome a lot here at Penn State,” Clifford said. “So that was nothing new.”

Yes, Clifford throwing interceptions is nothing new, but what was refreshing was the blue and white bouncing back from its mistake and doing it quickly.

“The guy knows he made a mistake. You don’t need to come to the sideline and get your head ripped off,” Franklin said. He also noted his sixth-year quarterback has had a “roller coaster” career.

After cornerback Daequan Hardy made a fantastic play on the ball to stop a third-down conversion, Penn State got the ball back with 2:22 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Clifford and the offense took over on their 20-yard line with two timeouts, but Clifford perfectly executed a well-planned two-minute drill from offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.

The drive began with an 8-yard catch by Tinsley, and after an incomplete pass, Clifford recorded a first down by connecting with Lambert-Smith for a 7-yard pickup.

On the next set of downs, freshman running back Kaytron Allen ran for eight yards and on the next play, Clifford connected with his roommate Tinsley who burst down the sideline for a 27-yard catch.

Following the big play, Clifford connected with Keyvone Lee and Tyler Warren for five and 15-yard gains, respectively.

Warren’s 15-yard reception set up Penn State on the Purdue 10-yard line, and the veteran signal-caller wasted little time lofting a pass above the defense and into the heads of Lee for a 10-yard score.

Clifford put on a master-class performance on the drive completing six of seven passes for 72 yards.

“It's one of those where you just gotta get the ball in the best player’s hands,” Clifford said. “All I had to do was just get the ball out quick.”

In 2021, the Nittany Lions suffered several gut punches in their biggest games and weren’t able to come back, but Thursday night was different.

Lambert-Smith dropped multiple passes throughout the game but came up with a huge touchdown. Joey Porter Jr. dropped what could’ve been a pick-six but had six forced incompletions.

Clifford threw one of the worst passes of his career that in years past would have made the blue and white crumble, but in 2022 they fought back.

After the contest, Franklin called the victory a “character win.”

“In the offseason, that was something that was stressed,” Strange said. “Summer conditioning, winter conditioning; just finish. Finish was stressed. I think it paid off today for us, and I'm happy it did.”

Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email