Penn State QB Sean Clifford thinks he can do even better
Sean Clifford barely mustered a smile after Friday night’s historic performance against Maryland.
Sure, the Penn State quarterback finished with the third-most single-game passing yards in school history (398). And, yes, he even led the team in rushing with 54 yards — and boasted four total touchdowns, three through the air and one on the ground.
But, with a straight face, minutes after a 59-0 victory in his first career road start, the redshirt sophomore was adamant he could’ve done better.
“I think this game is a good stepping stone, but it’s not even where I want to be,” he said from Maryland Stadium. “I still see a lot of explosive plays that I left up on the board.”
Clifford is a perfectionist, an underclassman who prepared like a starter as a true freshman. Now, as a starter, he prepares like a mad man bent on eliminating every mistake. During the bye week, he plotted out every one of his incompletions, broke down the passes he tossed to the right vs. the left and looked at his throws in the pocket and on the run.
“Just overall breaking down every little thing,” he said.
The self-proclaimed “film junkie” spotted two areas of concern from self-scouting: No. 1, his footwork and, No. 2, his consistency on deep passes. So, for the last two weeks, he set about improving those two areas.
The result? Contributing toward one of the Nittany Lions’ most complete performances since James Franklin’s first season at Penn State in 2014, when Clifford was a high school sophomore making his first career start.
“I thought Sean was on fire,” Franklin said.
Clifford wasn’t perfect against Maryland, but he was close. He completed 84 percent of his passes, throwing five incompletions, one of which was an interception.
But the quarterback with the patchy goatee seemed to be more focused on his singular mistake than his historic numbers. The underclassman deflected talk about what being No. 3 in the record books meant to him — “It’s 1-0; it’s 1-0. That’s really the only thing that matters to me,” he said — and he was quick to take the blame for coming up short elsewhere.
When wideout KJ Hamler joked his signal-caller was ticked about finishing 2 yards short of an even 400 passing yards, Clifford struck a defensive tone about his teammate — saying his coming up short was entirely his own fault.
“That’s on me,” Clifford said. “I had chances to have more explosive plays, and I didn’t convert.”
Hamler didn’t mind focusing more on the positives with Clifford.
“Sean did really good,” Hamler said. “I think that was his first fully good game, just being relaxed and more confident. He gains confidence every game we have.”
Clifford was pulled midway through the third quarter when the Nittany Lions led 45-0 and the win was already in hand. But the quarterback didn’t relax on the sideline, dancing to Drake like some of his teammates.
With two minutes left in the game, with a blue cap atop his head and his helmet nowhere in sight, Clifford sprinted toward the offense during a timeout to offer advice. He talked to backup Will Levis and, even with 20 seconds remaining in the game, the quarterback with the dripping eye paint turned to the crowd, pumped his fists and yelled, “Let’s go!”
Penn State led 59-0 at the time.
“He’s the point guard of the offense,” running back Journey Brown said. “I ask him questions, and there’s nothing he does not know.”