Sean Clifford silences boos, turns in great performance in White Out victory
Since the start of the 2022 campaign, many Penn State fans have called for five-star freshman Drew Allar to be the starting quarterback over the sixth-year Sean Clifford.
However, James Franklin has rolled with his veteran gunslinger, much to the displeasure of the fanbase. Clifford struggled mightily in the Nittany Lions' 41-17 loss to Michigan last week.
When Clifford was announced as the starter before Saturday’s contest against Minnesota, he was met with heavy boos from the home faithful.
The Cincinnati, Ohio, native silenced the crowd and turned in one the best performances of the season in a blowout 45-17 victory over the Golden Gophers.
After the game, Clifford mentioned he wasn’t focused on the boos but would leave everything on the gridiron.
“They can think what they want to think, but I'm gonna focus on what I can do on the field,” Clifford said. “I'm gonna give my heart and my soul every single time I step on that field. Nobody can take that away from me.”
Entering this week, there were several questions about the blue and white’s offense after it struggled to move the ball against the Wolverines, and three drives in, those issues still persisted.
On Penn State’s opening three drives of the game, it was forced to punt twice after two three-and-outs and Clifford threw an interception.
Fans were calling for Clifford to be benched in favor of Allar, but Franklin stuck with Clifford, and it paid off in a big way.
The veteran quarterback looked like a different player once the second quarter rolled around, and he finished the game throwing for 295 yards and four touchdowns while completing 74 percent of his passes.
“I thought that other than my interception, there really weren’t many flaws,” Clifford said. “Things here and there… but things that we can clean up, make adjustments off of.”
Coming into Saturday’s contest, Minnesota allowed an average of 11.7 points per game, which ranked fourth in the nation.
Franklin and the coaching staff knew adjustments had to be made in the passing game after Clifford threw for 120 yards and completed 36.8 percent of his passes against the Wolverines.
In the offseason, Franklin said he would put his tight end room against any in the country, and while it might have taken seven weeks, his trio of pass catches finally emerged.
Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren combined for six catches and 113 yards as they both found the endzone in the victory.
Clifford also connected with Parker Washington, who had a team-high seven catches for 70 yards while bringing in his first touchdown of the year.
“It was just awesome to see a bunch of guys make plays tonight,” Clifford said. “The tight ends getting heavily involved, Parker Washington being him tonight, Mitch Tinsley. The list goes on.”
After Jahan Dotson went to the NFL, many expected Washington to take the next step and become the Nittany Lions' lead receiver.
Despite leading the team in receiving, it has been a struggle for Washington this year, and he mentioned it was a long time coming for his first score of the season.
“Just being able to help the team and give them momentum and just confidence, I feel like that's bigger,” Washington said. “I just always want to look at the bigger picture, and that way just being able to help the team is always on my mind.”
Building momentum and finding a rhythm was something Penn State failed to do against Michigan.
Clifford mentioned Saturday was the first complete game the Nittany Lions have played this year and pointed to the midweek adjustments.
“A lot just didn't work or go in our favor,” Clifford said. “We had our shots last week, and it just didn't happen. But I thought that this week, we really made it a very, very strong point to make the plays when they're there. Make sure that we're putting ourselves in the best position and just get back to who we are.”
Saturday was the first time these programs squared off since 2019 when an 8-0 Penn State team suffered its first loss of the year in heartbreaking fashion.
In that game, Clifford threw three interceptions and one in the red zone that sealed the Nittany Lions' fate. Following the loss, the then-redshirt sophomore received death threats.
Many of the players from the 2019 team are no longer with the program, Clifford noted he hasn't forgotten the loss, and he uses a lifelong rivalry with injured Minnesota quarterback and fellow sixth-year Tanner Morgan.
Morgan and Clifford go back to middle school, and the two have formed a lifelong friendship and always look forward to playing against each other.
“We went 1-1 in middle school against each other, and then we went 1-1 in college, so no one gets bragging rights,” Clifford said. “So maybe in the league, we’ll see.”
With six years of experience, Clifford has faced his fair share of hate, and he knows Penn State has a “passionate fanbase.”
Despite having the fans calling for his eventual successor in Allar to start, Clifford mentioned he isn’t letting the pressure get to him, and he has the full support of his coach.
Franklin isn’t forcing a starting quarterback change and is going with who gives the team the best chance to win.
“I think if you look around the country, there's a lot of programs that would be super excited and happy about Sean Clifford being their quarterback and what he was able to do tonight against one of the better defenses in the country,” Franklin said. “I’m real proud of him.”
Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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