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Smeltzer: 3 Reasons for Penn State to Stick with Sean Clifford

Photo by Penn State Athletics

For most of this season, I’ve been an advocate of Sean Clifford being Penn State’s starting quarterback.

Now, I’m indifferent.

Penn State is in good shape to finish the regular season 10-2 regardless of whether Clifford or freshman sensation Drew Allar starts, so James Franklin and the coaching staff have options.

This article won’t necessarily be an attempt to push for Clifford to stay as QB1. If Franklin decides to start Allar this Saturday— and that seems like a real possibility based on Tuesday’s weekly press conference— I wouldn’t argue it. Allar is the future of Penn State football, so it’d make sense to get a jumpstart on the future.

But sometimes, I like to be a contrarian. Many people— including NSN’s Brandon Walker— are openly pushing for a QB change. Since I don’t have a strong opinion either way and could write a column in favor of either QB, I’ll choose to list some benefits to staying with Clifford.

REASON NO. 1 TO STICK WITH CLIFFORD: THE MINNESOTA GAME

Clifford is less than two weeks removed from one of his best games at Penn State.

Before the White Out game against Minnesota Oct. 23, Clifford got booed during pregame player introductions.

Penn State fans were cheering by the end of the game.

Clifford finished the night 23-31 passing (74.2 completion percentage) with 295 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. His completion percentage was the third-highest of his long career. Penn State’s offense had its best night of the season, scoring 45 points, and Clifford was a big reason it happened.

Love him or hate him, Clifford is still capable of playing darn good football, and tearing up a good Minnesota defense (second in the Big Ten, sixth in the nation in passing yards allowed) proves that.

REASON NO. 2: WAS HE THAT BAD AGAINST OHIO STATE?

The answer to this question for a lot of people is a resounding “yes,” and, sure, Clifford turned the ball over four times against the Buckeyes, and those turnovers contributed greatly to Penn State’s loss.

But people will act as if Clifford became college football’s version of Ryan Leaf this past Saturday, and I don’t buy it.

Clifford threw three interceptions and lost a fumble, but he also threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns came on consecutive drives in the second quarter, giving Penn State its first of two leads. In the second half, Clifford led Penn State on a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive that put the team ahead by a score with 9:26 left.

Ohio State proceeded to score 28 points in the next 6:44, and 14 of those points came after two Clifford turnovers.

Clifford had his problems against Ohio State, but he also got punched in the mouth after throwing interceptions on Penn State’s first two drives and fought back to throw two touchdowns in the second quarter. That shows the poise of a veteran, and that’s something we don’t know if a true freshman like Allar would pull off in the same situation.

REASON NO. 3: LOYALTY 

Here’s the reason that will get the most eye rolls.

No, Franklin shouldn’t generally start less-talented players simply because they’re veterans.

But thinking back to before the season, a lot of people thought Penn State would— and should— only bench Clifford if his play gave them a reason.

I’m not sure that’s happened yet. Clifford wasn’t great against Ohio State, but he was pretty darn good against Minnesota. His completion percentage on the season (62.8) is the highest of his career, and he’s thrown 10 more touchdowns than interceptions. Penn State still has a lot to play for as well, and there’s generally less risk involved in starting a veteran when a team is still in “win now” mode.

For Clifford to end his Penn State career on the bench after all these years would be sad, and I don’t know if it’s something that should be done unless it’s absolutely necessary for the team to win.

 

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