Sean Clifford Nears Penn State’s All-Time Wins Record: The Sixth-Year Senior Deserves His Flowers
No. 11 Penn State smothered Michigan State on Senior Day by a final score of 35-16, improving its record to 10-2 and moving up to No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Sixth-year senior quarterback Sean Clifford went out on a high note, completing an efficient 19-of-24 passes for 202 yards and four touchdowns. He led the offense to a win in his final game at Beaver Stadium, giving him a total of 31 all-time as a starter – one away from the school record held by Trace McSorley (31).
A few weeks ago, Clifford bumped his career passing yards total to 10,023 against Maryland, becoming the first quarterback in Penn State history to eclipse the 10,000-yard mark and surpassing McSorley as the program’s all-time leading passer.
It might come as a shock to those unfamiliar with the situation, but Clifford is the same quarterback who was booed pregame before he put together a four-touchdown performance in a 45-17 win versus Minnesota just over a month ago.
There were even a few faint jeers directed towards Clifford early in the game on Senior Day, despite the cheers during his pregame introduction.
Clifford’s also the same quarterback who was forced to turn off his social media comments what seems like eons ago, and who had to tolerate the bombardment of “We want Drew!” chants throughout every home game. The hatred and criticism that he’s had to bear would’ve broken most people – it would’ve shattered me, for sure.
I ask Penn State fans – what kind of home field advantage is that?
I don’t condone booing college players in general, but what Clifford has to endure on the daily is disgusting. It’s truthfully a low and inexplicable way to treat your starting quarterback, especially one whose won a lot of football games and gives his heart and soul to the program every time he steps out onto the gridiron.
Maybe, some support could’ve gone a long way…
Clifford’s no stranger to the unfair and uncalled for treatment that he receives, and in a way, he gets it. He takes it like a champ.
“People are going to be critical, but that's because this place is so special and they demand excellence and they demand the best, which is awesome,” Clifford said. “Am I bummed that I couldn't get it done all the way to that point? Yeah, but what a journey it’s been and I wouldn't give up the memories that I have with my teammates for anything.”
He knows where he stands with a handful of the Penn State faithful, yet still shows the utmost kindness, respect and maturity when it comes to how he carries himself around the fans and the media; and in reality, he’s had tremendous success.
Clifford was one loss to Minnesota away from a top-four rank and an 11-win season in 2019. In 2021, he had Penn State at 5-0 and was an undisclosed upper body injury away from taking the Nittany Lions to another top-four slot, and that season turns out completely differently.
This year, he’s shut out the noise and led Penn State to No. 8 in the nation and has secured his second 10-win season as a collegiate starter – something that not a lot can say they’ve accomplished.
Overall, Clifford’s 31-15 as a starter and 27-10 (73% winning percentage) if you eliminate the COVID-year. McSorley went 31-9 (78% winning percentage) in his three years as QB1 and held the record for the most wins for as a Penn State starter, which Clifford could end up outdoing if he concludes his career with a bowl game victory.
I don’t always encourage using win/loss record to evaluate quarterbacks, especially in this case considering that Clifford has had better defenses to work with and McSorley had Saquon Barkley at his disposal. But it shows how much Clifford has accomplished as a starter, and why the flack that he constantly catches from the fanbase and some of the media is completely unwarranted.
It also compares Clifford to who many deem as the best gunslinger in Penn State history, and that in reality he’s not too far off just because he’s been rostered for six years.
Clifford’s started 46 games to McSorley’s 41 and attempted just 50 more passes at the moment he broke the passing yards record, which doesn’t quite fit the “sixth-year” narrative that couch quarterbacks like to turn to.
McSorley helped give the offense a special aura that Clifford hasn’t quite been able to manifest during his time as a starter. But with that said, it’s not entirely his fault and it shouldn’t take away from the fact that he’s one of the most prolific passers in Penn State history.
“I don’t regret anything that has happened,” Clifford said. “Do I regret a throw? A bunch of throws, hundreds of throws… yeah, for sure. Did I have some bad days? Yeah, for sure. But at the same time, I know I’ve given this program everything I’ve got.”
I recall – even when McSorley was the starter, he got banged up a bit his senior season and fans were calling for Clifford since he had a perfect career passer rating at the time (5-for-5, 199 yards and two touchdowns).
It comes down to one word – recency bias.
The old saying ‘everybody’s favorite player is the backup quarterback’ has held a lot of truth at Penn State over the last decade. Whether it’s been Matt McGloin or Christian Hackenberg, Trace McSorley or Sean Clifford – or even Trace McSorley or Tommy Stevens, or Sean Clifford or Will Levis – the fans always seem to want the “next best thing.”
Clifford has the most attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and will have a chance to close his chapter with the most wins and the most bowl wins (in the last decade) as Penn State’s quarterback. He’s simply been one of the best, no matter which way you put it.
Let’s set aside the on-field for a second – Clifford deserves your respect because that’s the only thing he’s given you.
He hasn’t been perfect, but he doesn’t have to be. He’s a 24-year-old college quarterback, bowl champion, award winner, the CEO of his own company, etc. Clifford deserves a memorable and heartfelt ride off into the sunset just as much as anyone else and has earned respect for what he’s accomplished.
Drew Allar is the future, no one’s denying it – not even Clifford.
“I love everything about Penn State and it’s going to be sad to leave… But at the same time, the community is ready to see something new. And I’m with them,” Clifford said with a smile following Penn State’s win over Maryland on Nov. 12.
But as the saying goes, appreciate what you have, because you might not realize it until it’s gone.
Zach Donaldson is a fifth-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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