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Stuff Somers Says: The One Sean Clifford Wants

Photo by Penn State Athletics (Mark Selders): Sean Clifford

You and I have sat and watched Sean Clifford take the helm of Penn State’s offense 45 times in the last five years.

In that time, he’s thrown the ball 1,192 times, 722 of them caught. Of those 722 completions, 75 of them have gone for touchdowns. He’s thrown for 9,284 yards and he’s even caught one pass that went for 25 yards.

Those throws have led Penn State to 30 wins from teams in six different conferences outside of the Big Ten. Seventeen times he’s beaten a Big Ten opponent. There are two left that he has not conquered, one of which he will not get a crack at again in Nebraska.

The other is Ohio State.

How those 1,192 throws, 722 completions, 75 passing touchdowns, 14 rushing touchdowns, off-the-field NIL deals, and every cheer and boo along the way will be remembered will be boiled down to three and a half hours on a crisp Saturday afternoon at the corner of Curtain and Porter.

Saturday’s contest between Penn State and Ohio State isn’t just an important measuring stick for the program or the answer to Penn State’s College Football Playoff hopes, it will be the career-defining game in the long career of Sean Clifford.

With no basis in fact whatsoever, I wholeheartedly believe this game is why Clifford, the native of Cincinnati, came back for his sixth season when he could have just handed over the keys to his heir-apparent, Drew Allar.

When Clifford’s career is over, he likely will have every major passing record at Penn State. He’s three touchdown throws away from overthrowing Trace McSorley while taking the rest of those records from the likes of Collins, Robinson and yes, even you Matt McGloin. All of those guys have one thing in common, the thing that Clifford’s Penn State resume most blatantly doesn’t have: a win over the Buckeyes.

If you think you’ve been bothered by Penn State’s tries against the Buckeyes since 2016, imagine the weight that’s been sitting with Clifford. In 2019, he limped into the Horseshoe, keeping pace for much of the game before being taken out for Will Levis – the quarterback Clifford is most often compared to – due to injury. 2020’s game featured a painful forgetful loss sans image of the outstretched hand of Jahan Dotson, and 2021 was one of Clifford’s best efforts on the road throwing for 361 yards but one that included an offense sputtering out late.

If Penn State loses on Saturday – a concept that even the most optimistic Nittany Lion fans are considering – it will be Clifford’s fourth that he’s responsible for. It will probably include a heavy smattering of boos directed at redshirt super senior. In fact, it will probably be the most hostile the crowd has been to its own quarterback since the days of Anthony Morelli. It will also effectively end Penn State’s chances at College Football Playoff berth as the blue and white once again cling to a New Year Six spot if the chips fall the way many people think.

It could also mark the beginning of the Allar era – or at least the foreword of a book that’s likely going to be a good one and you just want to skip ahead but you have to read it anyway.

But if Clifford can string together one more of those gutsy performances like the one he had this past Saturday where he led Penn State to a White Out win with a season-high 295 yards and four touchdowns, then maybe the Nittany Lions will have the most pessimistic fans hoping and praying.

If Clifford – in the face of even his own fans who admonished him after one throw against Minnesota, who jeered him when his face simply showed up on the jumbotron, who all season long have been asking for The Future – can give Penn State fans who have never watched No. 14 play against Ohio State at home one more blue-collar afternoon, then we will be having a different conversation about him.

And if, just if Penn State wins, the boos will evaporate. Your uncle who has been saying Allar should have never come off the field against Purdue will finally start grumbling about something, anything else. James Franklin will finally have some of that “elite” pressure released. Penn State will be right in the midst of a very real chance at the College Football Playoff spot and Clifford will no longer have the question marks surrounding his head.

He will rightfully be able to put his name next to, if not above, all of those other Nittany Lion leaders.

It will be the biggest win since the last time Penn State beat Ohio State and the biggest win in the long, topsy-turvy career of the Ohio boy who is now a man with a budding business career who could become a hero in the 129-year history of football in Happy Valley.

It will be how we remember Sean Clifford.

Darian Somers is a 2016 Penn State graduate currently living in Frederick, Maryland. You can follow him on Twitter at @StuffSomersSays. You can listen to his podcast, Stuff Somers Says with Steve Sampsell every week on major podcast outlets.

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