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Penn State Football All 105

Penn State Football All 105: Sean Clifford Back for One More Year

Sean Clifford
Photo by Penn State Athletics: QB Sean Clifford looks to run in Saturday's game against Maryland.

All 105 is a Nittany Sorts Now Series profiling each Penn State football player. In this edition, we will be profiling sixth-year senior quarterback, Sean Clifford.

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 212 pounds 

Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio 

Before Penn State: At St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Clifford became the first football player in school history to become a two-time team captain.

In his last high school game, Clifford led St. Xavier to a double-overtime win over St. Ignatius in the state championship, making St. Xavier the first five-loss team in Ohio High School Athletic Association history— regardless of division— to win a state title.

St. Xavier also won the Greater Catholic League South in three of Clifford’s four years.

Clifford’s performance as a senior got him invited to the Under Armour and Army All-American games. He couldn’t play in the Under Armour game due to injury.

A consensus four-star recruit, Clifford committed to Penn State in July of 2015.

2017: Clifford redshirted his first football season at Penn State.

2018: Clifford began his Penn State career in grand fashion, throwing a touchdown pass late in Penn State’s 51-6 win over rival Pitt in Week 2. He finished the season completing five passes in seven attempts, backing up Trace McSorley.

2019: With McSorley gone, Clifford became Penn State’s No. 1 quarterback, starting 12 of Penn State’s 13 games and helping the team to an 11-2 record and Cotton Bowl win over Memphis.

Clifford finished the season with 2,654 yards passing, 23 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 59.2 completion percentage.

2020: The 2020 season was a nightmare for Clifford and the entire program.

After a delay due to COVID-19, Penn State finally began its season in late-October ranked No. 8.

The team dropped its season opener at Indiana in heartbreaking fashion and lost the next four games to start 0-5 for the first time in program history.

Clifford struggled as much as anybody, being benched in the middle of the team’s loss at Nebraska and not starting at home against Iowa the next week. Clifford eventually regained his starting job, and Penn State won its last four games to finish 4-5.

Still, for a program that went 42-10 over the previous four seasons, the 2020 campaign was an overall nightmare.

2021: For a while, it looked like last season would be a redemption tour for Clifford and Penn State.

The team started 5-0 and rose to No. 4 in the country.

In the first five games, Clifford threw for 1,336 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Then, Iowa happened.

In the second quarter of Penn State’s game against the No. 3 Hawkeyes in Iowa City, with Penn State leading 17-3, Clifford went down with an injury. After that, Iowa outscored Penn State 20-3 to escape with the win.

After a bye week, Clifford came back to play against Illinois at Beaver Stadium, but didn’t look like himself, completing just 19 of 34 passes for 165 yards. Illinois stunned Penn State and ruined Homecoming, as well as any chance of a College Football Playoff appearance.

Clifford played well the next week at Ohio State, completing 35 of 52 passes for 361 yards, but Ohio State had too much firepower and won, 33-24.

Although Clifford put up some solid stat lines over the last four weeks of the regular season— 363 yards and three touchdowns at Maryland,  313 yards in the snow at Michigan State— Penn State went just 2-2 over the last four regular season games and lost the Outback Bowl to Arkansas to finish a disappointing 7-6.

Where he stands:

All reasonable Penn State fans want Clifford to do well in 2022, and he has plenty of defenders.

A good bit of Penn State fans love Clifford for his leadership qualities, ability to get up after being knocked down— figuratively and literally— and overall dedication to the program.

But to put it bluntly, there are some particularly cynical Penn State fans who are sick of Sean Clifford.

Although he’s certainly not a perfect quarterback and deserves a portion of the criticism that has come his way— particularly over the past two seasons— in Clifford’s defense, he has factors working against him that are out of his control.

For one, Clifford followed arguably the most popular quarterback in school history in Trace McSorley, and he hasn’t matched McSorley’s success on the field, which few quarterbacks in Penn State history have.

Clifford’s first season as Penn State’s started came with pressure because of the man who preceded him.

His last season will begin with pressure because of the man who is expected by most to succeed him.

Drew Allar is a five-star talent with five-star hype surrounding him, and there are some within the fanbase who want to see the kid from Medina High School in Ohio ASAP.

If healthy, Clifford will— and should— be Penn State’s starter Week 1, and it will likely take an injury to remove him from the starting role.

Right now, Clifford is getting ready to enter his sixth year overall and second year running coordinator Mike Yurcich’s offense

There won’t be a fair way to define Clifford’s Penn State legacy until his last season is over.

A quote about Clifford:

“After talking with his family and talking with me,” coach James Franklin said not long after Clifford announced his plan to return for a sixth year, “he wants to leave Penn State the right way, which is putting Penn State in the best position to be successful on a national level, but also putting Sean in the best position to get drafted as high as possible and also to make a team.”

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