Penn State Football: Clifford Grows, And Shines, After Productive Off Week
September 28, 2019 1:30 AM
by Ben Jones
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Sean Clifford is evolving, just in ways that aren't always obvious.

Well, 26-for-31, 398 yards and three touchdowns is pretty obvious, but how that sort of thing comes to pass isn't always so clear.

"I'm happy how I kept my eyes down field this week," Clifford said following Penn State's 59-0 win over Maryland on Friday night. "I was coming off the sideline the first couple weeks and there would be a couple defenses that I didn't exactly know what they were running. I would panic a little bit. Tonight I would come to the sideline and get on the headset with coach Rahne and I could go back throughout each play and I could remember what the defense gave me on each play. So I think that's probably what I'm most proud of."

You could see it in how Clifford managed the game. In his first road trip as a starter and first appearance away from home since a brief stint at the Citrus Bowl, he had the poise of his predecessor. His long interception was a throw he would likely want to have back — his head coach does — but it was the product of confidence, not necessity.

As a result, Clifford finished two yards shy of becoming just the second Penn State quarterback to throw for 400 or more yards in a single game in program history. Christian Hackenberg threw for 454 during Penn State's 2014 win over UCF in Dublin. Zack Mills holds the No. 2 single-game passing total with 399 against Iowa in 2002.

Whatever the history may have been, Clifford's performance in the present was a reminder both of his potential and his youth. The sophomore has played four games of football as a starter, if he were to play for the next two years these four games would mark roughly 11% of his career.

And he's already come this far.

"I think for a young quarterback, the extra time in the bye week was really valuable for him," James Franklin said after the game. "And he does it the right way, him and Will [Levis] are preparing at a high level. Doing the things they need to do to be successful. The one thing I was concerned about was the noise, we made the noise louder that it ever could have been in the stadium to the point where they lost their voices. I thought we handled it really well."

How their careers pan out is a story far from decided, but Clifford has already managed to outdo Trace McSorley's opening four-game stretch in wins, passing and rushing yards. While the comparisons will soon be rendered pointless, if they aren't already, Clifford has proven more than capable in the role and passed his first real test with flying colors.

He will need to improve his play down the field, a fact he readily admits, but that's a task for another day. It's hard to find many complaints after nearly 400-yards and an 83% completion rate.

"I just think he was confident because of the amount of preparation he put in," Franklin added. "And I think the way we handled practice with the noise, they were very comfortable with it."

Hard to argue otherwise.

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