Clifford’s Struggles Continue as Penn State’s Losing Streak Reaches 3
For the third straight week, statistics failed to tell the whole story.
The scorebook will show quarterback Sean Clifford threw for over 300 yards, as well as three touchdowns for the second game in a row. But entering halftime, Clifford was just 6 of 20 passing for 78 yards against a Maryland defense that head coach Mike Locksley wanted to challenge the redshirt junior quarterback.
“Our game plan was to make Sean Clifford beat us throwing the ball,” Locksley said.
In a 35-19 loss to the Maryland Terrapins, which beat Penn State for just the third time in 44 tries, Clifford was hardly the only problem for the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s defense gave up 28 points and 335 yards in the first half, the running backs ran for a combined 68 yards, and Jake Pinegar missed a 49-yard field goal.
But for Clifford, he takes responsibility for the Nittany Lions’ 0-3 start.
“It starts with me,” Clifford said. “We’ve got to clean it up. We can’t lose these types of games.”
Wide receiver Jahan Dotson, who had his second straight game with more than 100 yards receiving, said he is still confident Clifford is the answer at the quarterback position. Dotson called Clifford one of the “best quarterbacks” in the country and somebody who has earned his respect for his hard work at practice.
Regardless of the prior three outcomes on gameday, Dotson did not stutter when coming to his quarterback’s defense when asked whether a change at the quarterback position is needed.
“He’s a baller,” Dotson said. “I have all my trust in Sean Clifford, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”
Dotson said Maryland’s defense lined up in man-to-man coverage on almost every snap of the game. With extra defenders lined up near the line of scrimmage, the Terrapins were able to sack Clifford seven times, four coming in the third quarter alone.
While Dotson noted how the receivers must do a better job of getting open, Clifford believed it is his responsibility as the quarterback to find open receivers despite incoming pressure.
“I can’t get gun shy,” Clifford said. “It’s something that I can improve on and will improve on.”
When Penn State went down 35-7 early in the third quarter, Penn State head coach James Franklin said he never considered benching Clifford. Postgame, Clifford had his left arm wrapped up.
Instead of resting his starting quarterback with the game seemingly out of hand, Franklin wanted to give Clifford a chance to stage a comeback.
“For me with starting quarterbacks, you want to do everything you possibly can to give them a chance,” Franklin said. “They are in that position for a reason.”
Every game this season, Clifford has run the ball at least 17 times. As Penn State’s leading rusher with 124 yards total, a dual threat quarterback is precisely what Clifford has had to become.
And yet, with running backs Journey Brown and Noah Cain lost for the season, Clifford said instead of extending plays with his legs, he cannot play “outside the framework” of offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca’s game plan.
Aside from the countless hits he has endured through three games, being the starting quarterback of a winless Penn State is unfamiliar territory for Clifford.
“Mentally, I’m pissed,” Clifford said. “We’re an 0-3 football team and I’ve never been on an 0-3 football team. I’m frustrated and disappointed.”
Unless Clifford can complete a higher percentage of passes (27 of 57 passing against Maryland) and take better care of the ball (five interceptions on the season), Penn State’s losing ways may not stop here.
“It's very apparent what type of a football team we are,” Clifford said. “We are an underperforming football team. It’s unacceptable. We’ve got to figure this out.”
Andrew Destin is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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