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Penn State Football: Clifford Growing and Enjoying the Process

by on October 13, 2019 2:56 AM

IOWA CITY, IOWA.— Sean Clifford's first quarter on Saturday night could have gone better. Three incompletions, two sacks and a drop. 

To be honest his entire night could have gone better, a 12-for-24 outing racking up 117 yards and a touchdown was far from his best, but a 7-for-9 second half helped lead the Nittany Lions to their sixth-straight victory. it doesn't always have to be pretty, it just has to work well enough to win.

It can be easy to forget in the wake of Trace McSorley's three-year stint as the calming hand at the helm of Penn State's offense that Clifford has not been at this for very long. He has thrown just 11% of McSorley's total passes, a sign that his career is far from over, and that he as a quarterback is far from a finished product.

"This was definitely the first time that I hit a lot of adversity with myself, and had to dig deep," Clifford said following the game. "The first quarter was very, very unacceptable, but I'm going to go back and watch the tape. I know I talk every week about how I'm going to go back and watch the tape, but it really is true. I'm going to learn a lot from that first quarter. But I am proud of how the offense moved the ball in the second quarter and the second half, took care of business in the end with the four-minute drill. I'm just happy with how we pulled this one out."

The word learning comes up a lot around this fairly young collection of Nittany Lions. Most everything is new, or at least not so familiar that it can be taken for granted. Clifford is no different, even if his role is accentuated by its importance. He is doing most of this for the first time and doing it at a pretty high level.

Their opening six games are very different schedules. McSorley faced Pitt in Pittsburgh and Michigan in Ann Arbor, but he still managed 1,436 yards through the air, eight touchdowns and three interceptions and a 58% completion rate.

As for Clifford, he has managed 1,560 yards, 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions while slinging it at a high, 63% clip.

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The purpose here isn't to continue the unavoidable comparisons, but rather a benchmark to air a simple reminder: Sean Clifford has a long way to go, but he's doing a pretty good job right out of the gates.

"I learned a lot. That was really the first time I had to deal with a crowd," Clifford added. "Maryland I had to a little bit but that game went a little bit differently obviously. This one it was a lot tighter and the crowd brought it the whole game. It was just a good learning experience."

There is an unspoken narrative here as well, one that reminds us that it wasn't long ago that Sean Clifford wasn't even the frontrunner for the job he has otherwise taken over competently. A year ago this was Tommy Stevens' job, or at least all signs pointed in that direction. Instead it is Clifford, a fiery competitor not afraid to pump up his teammates like they're about to play in his backyard.

Do you ever think about where things stood last year? How much life has changed? You would be crazy not to.

"Oh yeah," Clifford said quickly.

"You've got to reflect in this sport. You've gotta reflect on games; you've gotta watch tape, I just appreciate what I've been given and what this team has brought me. I'm just blessed to be in the position that I am. I'm really excited to keep this thing going."

There is a boyish charm about how Clifford approaches his role, deadly serious but also not above the ability to laugh and enjoy it. Nobody is having more fun than Sean Clifford. For all the pressure and high stakes that comes with being the starting quarterback at a major college football program, Clifford is still enjoying it. He hasn't drowned in the pressure, hasn't cracked under the moment. At least not yet.

How can you have fun? How can you find the space to enjoy something that can be so stressful?

"Cause it's fun, it really is," Clifford said with a smile. "Even when I was going through the first quarter and adversity hit and it wasn't looking good for us in the beginning, I was still having fun. It's crazy you get into that kind of game, it's tight, your body is a little banged up and I just can't help but smile. This is what I came to Penn State for. This what I've always wanted to do."

Clifford wasn't at his best Saturday, he was the first to admit as much, but it's hard to ignore the confidence he has in the process or the belief that each week he will come back just a little bit better.

And it's hard to argue that he hasn't, or that Saturday wasn't just the latest chapter in a rapidly growing book.

"He's 6-0,” Coach James Franklin said after the game. "I sat around the hotel this afternoon and watched a lot of teams that didn't get a W."



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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