Sean Clifford is one of the most polarizing players in Penn State history, if not the most.
You either love him, hate him, hate to love him or even love to hate him. There is seemingly no in-between which perfectly encapsulates his play on the field. It’s either great see final three quarters against Minnesota or bad, see first quarter against Minnesota.
Of course, that’s a small sample size, but when the story of Clifford with the Nittany Lions is finally written, it could easily be titled: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
The best came in 2019, Clifford led Penn State to an 11-2 record and a Cotton Bowl victory over Memphis. He threw for 2,654 yards, 23 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
The worst was 2021, a season in which the Nittany Lions finished 7-6, but the inconsistent play of Clifford became ever present with Penn State winning the first five games of the season before winning only two of their remaining eight games.
It’s also fair to say 2020 was a brutal year, but it’s not a real accurate season to judge given the circumstances surrounding the season.
A quick look at Clifford’s statistics from a career shows that he will go down in Penn State history as one of the most decorated quarterbacks with a multitude of passing records. A deeper look year-by-year at those same stats looks to be about the same each year, about 20-25 touchdowns, 7-10 interceptions and 2,500-3,000 passing yards and roughly 300-500 rushing yards.
Nothing more, nothing less statistically. He’s been consistently inconsistent which makes him consistently frustrating to many throughout the fan base.
A win Saturday could change that tone forever.
Ohio State’s margin of victory over the past three games – ones Clifford has started – is 11 points. Penn State matches up far better against Ohio State than Michigan and with it being at Beaver Stadium, it does give the Nittany Lions some semblance of a home field advantage.
A win Saturday is possible. If Clifford is able to produce like he did in the final three quarters throwing four against the Golden Gophers, Penn State stands a very good chance at the upset.
The craziest piece of data involving Clifford is he has yet to play the Buckeyes in front of a crowd at Beaver Stadium. His lone home start came in 2020 when fans weren’t allowed to attend.
Ohio State is also one of two teams Clifford hasn’t beat, the other being Nebraska. This will be the fourth time Clifford will face the Buckeyes in his career and a win would put him in company with Penn State legends such as Matt McGloin and Trace McSorley even Kerry Collins and Todd Blackledge.
A win would silence the thousands of critics analyzing every step, every throw, every move Clifford makes from the time he wakes up until the time the game ends. Fair or not, the over-analyzation of Clifford can only be quieted with a win Saturday.
Lose to the Buckeyes again and the calls for freshman Drew Allar get louder. The clamoring for James Franklin to be fired gets more intense. And above all, Clifford’s legacy gets cemented as one who couldn’t get the job done against Ohio State when it mattered most.
Win or lose, Clifford’s legacy is going to be remembered in his records, but his status as a legend will be defined by what happens Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.