Sean Clifford Shines In Penn State’s 28-20 White Out Win Over Auburn
“I’ve always believed I played better when the stakes were higher”–Quarterback Sean Clifford
The stakes had never been higher than what they were last night. With a rare SEC opponent, Auburn (2-0), entering Happy Valley for an early season White Out in primetime, the Penn State QB shined.
Talk surrounded Clifford and his counterpart, QB Bo Nix all week leading up to yesterday’s matchup. Everyone was wondering which inconsistent quarterback would step up and Clifford answered their questions with a methodical and precise performance.
Clifford’s final stats were emphatic: 28/32, 280 yards, 2 TDs through the air and 5 rushes for 24 yards on the ground. The only error was a intercepted pass before the half on which he was hit while he was throwing it. Otherwise, perfect.
Not only was he perfect, but offensive coordinator, Mike Yucich, called an almost perfect game. The playcalls and reads were designed to give his signal caller confidence early and often. Penn State hit numerous wide receiver screens early in the game, got their tight ends involved over the middle, killed Auburn underneath with the short passing game, and when they needed a big play they went to their best player, wide receiver Jahan Dotson.
But it all started with Sean Clifford. Clifford looked not only confident, but also patient in the pocket. The 3rd & 7 on the first drive of the game, where the offensive line protected him for eons was a good sign to come. The big boys up front protected Clifford all night long and didn’t allow a single sack–though the horrible intentional grounding called on Clifford was registered as a sack. With the time in the pocket to make the right decisions, Sean Clifford dissected the Auburn defense through the air.
Meanwhile, besides two well-timed back shoulder throws on third downs, Bo Nix couldn’t get anything going in the passing department. Fortunately for Auburn, the Tigers were able to ride star running back, Tank Bigsby for the majority of the game. However, as the game got into the late stages of the 4th quarter, Auburn still failed to throw the ball: sometimes because of inaccurate throws, sometimes because of hurried throws due to pressure, and sometimes Nix’s inexperienced receiving corps failed him.
Nix finished 21/37 for 185 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions–though Penn State’s defense was credited with at least 5 pass breakups, one of which was almost a pick-six by LB Brandon Smith right before the half. Head coach Bryan Harsin and his offensive coordinator Mike Bobo refused to open up the passing game for Nix even in obvious passing situations; for example, they decided to run the ball on third and long early in the game near midfield.
It was a tale of two different sidelines as Clifford and Co. continued to gain confidence with three 80 + TD drives, with the last one acting as the dagger. Bo Nix’s final two drives ended with two incompletions, one on a 4th and Goal dull endzone fade and the other as time expired. Both passes were defended by Penn State’s safety Jaquan Brisker, who has played as well as anyone in the country through three games.
I don’t think anyone but Sean Clifford saw this sort of impressive transformation in just a short few months working with Yurcich. And now with two of the tougher defenses Clifford will see this season out of the way, the sky appears to be the limit. Especially if they can find a way to run the ball more consistently.
Maybe we should start buying stock in Sean Clifford–we know he already has.