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Confident or arrogant or both, refreshingly honest Sean Clifford isn’t here to deal with any criticism

Photo by Penn State Athletics: QB Sean Clifford

It’s one of the best interview clips I’ve seen in 15 years of covering Penn State football. Because it’s honest, candid and, frankly, the guy doing the talking doesn’t seem to give a rip what anybody else thinks.

Even the ending of the clip is terrific. The remarks are so good that you can actually hear a reporter who has covered PSU for nearly 40 years, Mike Poorman of StateCollege.com, say, “Wow!.”

This is the awesome exchange between QB Sean Clifford and Mark Brennan of Lions247 with Fight On State after PSU’s 27-17 win at Michigan on Saturday.

 

Now listen, we in the media love it when players and coaches tell us the truth. We hear so many canned answers and coach speak that it sometimes can seem like a mind-numbing waste of time even talking to athletes. They don’t want to tell us the truth because, hey, a lot of times, the truth isn’t all that good to either them or their team.

So it’s refreshing when we do get to talk to athletes who aren’t afraid to be themselves and speak their mind, regardless of what anyone else thinks. That is why just about every member of the Penn State beat will tell you that their favorite player to deal with in the past 20 years has been QB Matt McGloin, who was nicknamed “Moxie” because of his confidence and candor.

There’s no doubt that Sean Clifford was lousy early this season. He threw a bunch of terrible interceptions and had bad fumbles, and certainly his struggles were a big reason why Penn State started 0-4, leading him to be benched in favor of Will Levis last week against Iowa.

That had to be humbling for Clifford. Or at least you would think so.

Brennan asked a good question about whether the quarterback ever doubted himself, and Clifford showed he was having none of that.

“No,” he said, before the question was even finished.

Brennan, who has covered PSU for nearly 30 years, then asked a perfect follow-up question: “Why not?”

Clifford’s response above tells you a lot about him.

He is incredibly confident in himself. No doubt about it.

Truth be told, he even sounds pretty arrogant in the way he answered the question. But so be it. He had just finished playing a really good game and delivering Penn State a desperately needed victory after an 0-5 start, so if he wants to sound a little arrogant, he had every right on this day.

Clifford completed 17-of-28 passes for 163 yards with NO INTERCEPTIONS. That last part is huge.

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He also was fantastic running the ball. He scored a touchdown on a 28-yard run and also had a 29-yard scramble that set up a field goal.

Clifford, more than any other player, is the reason Penn State won the game. Yes, freshman Keyvone Lee was terrific with 134 yards rushing, and as Clifford pointed out, the offensive line played great.

But Clifford made the plays when they had to be made. He made the biggest throw of the season to keep the biggest drive of the season alive, hitting Jahan Dotson on third-and-7 from the Michigan 12 to get a first down that led to a touchdown and insurmountable 27-17 lead with 8:12 to go.

Clifford’s confidence can help this Penn State team. He is a leader and expects himself and everyone around him to do what it takes to win.

Clifford’s arrogance, though, can and has been a detriment at times. He believes so much in his ability that he has tried to do too much at times, and that has led to a bunch of costly turnovers and negative plays.

If Clifford can play under control as he did Saturday, he is definitely capable of leading the PSU offense to success. And in that scenario, he could help the Lions have a chance to win out the rest of the regular season.

But if Clifford’s confidence starts seeping into arrogance on the field, it can lead to bad decisions, too many risks and more bad turnovers. Then, Penn State could potentially lose to anyone else that it plays, even Rutgers this week.

What Penn State needs is a level-headed, consistent quarterback who makes the plays he’s supposed to make and doesn’t hurt the team with big mistakes.

Clifford was that quarterback against Michigan.

It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep it up the rest of the season.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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