Sean Clifford had some big shoes to fill last fall. Taking over for record-setting quarterback Trace McSorley was no small task for a first-time starter in the B1G.
Clifford didn’t shy away from the big stage, though. As a sophomore, Clifford helped lead Penn State to an 11-2 record, which included a victory over Memphis in the Cotton Bowl. He threw for 2,654 yards and 23 touchdowns while completing just below 60 percent of his passes for the year. Clifford also rushed for 402 yards and five additional scores.
After such a strong start to his career, what’s the next major step for Clifford? Head coach James Franklin discussed how he expects his quarterback to grow in 2020.
“He comes from a great high-school program,” Franklin said on FOX Big Noon Kickoff. “St. Xavier (OH) does a great job. He came in, really, pretty developed. He was an Elite 11 guy, as well. Football is very important to him. He worked hard at it. It’s not too many guys as a redshirt sophomore to come in and win 11 games across the country. He’s got a really good foundation to work from. I wouldn’t say he’s got any glaring weaknesses right now. It’s not like he had a bunch of turnovers. He was able to make plays with his feet. He was able to make plays with his mind. He was able to make plays with his arm. In today’s college football, you better be able to do that. You better be able to hurt people in many different ways. He has the ability to do that.
“Right now, it’s really just him continuing to grow as a leader for our football team. Your first-year starter compared to your second-year starter, what a difference is probably made on your football team. It’s everything else. Can we throw for a little bit higher percentage? Can we pick up a few more first downs on third down? Can we convert more touchdowns in the red zone rather than field goals? It’s just a little bit in every single area. He understands that. He’s a really driven, motivated guy. I couldn’t be more excited about what he’s going to do for us.”
Clifford’s job may not be quite as easy this season as it was last year. While the Nittany Lions return wide receiver Jahan Dotson and tight end Pat Freiermuth, Penn State’s receiver room is still relatively inexperienced and unproven. Getting guys on the same page quickly will be vital to the team’s success this fall.
Penn State is scheduled to open the 2020 season at home against Kent State on Sept. 5. Things get much more difficult in a hurry, as the Nittany Lions travel to Virginia Tech in Week 2.