Penn State football: Sean Clifford seems determined to keep playing, battling, leading
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford knows you know he’s not 100 percent. He’ll tell you he’s spent a lot of time in the training room getting treatment the past 2 weeks.
You can surmise that, one way or another, he’s still feeling the lick Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell laid on him 2 weeks ago.
But beyond that, the third-year starter isn’t offering up details any more than head coach James Franklin does. That information is on a need-to-know basis, and fans, the general public and future opponents don’t need to know. Fair enough.
“Obviously, I felt good coming into this game, that’s why I played,” Clifford said in the aftermath of Saturday’s 20-18 loss to Illinois. “I just need to keep progressing and keep getting better.”
After a 2-week melodrama in which backups Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux were supposedly competing to play in Clifford’s stead against the Illini, Clifford made his 12th straight start on Homecoming weekend in State College.
Aside from one quick, effective 93-yard march for a first-quarter touchdown, Clifford and the offense struggled mightily, finding almost no rhythm the rest of the way.
“I, obviously, don’t feel like I played my best football at all. I made a lot of mistakes,” the veteran of 27 starts said. “You can’t chalk things up to injuries or anything like that. When you’re on the field, you just gotta make the plays when they’re there.”
He couldn’t play his normal game, which includes running the ball to augment a rushing attack that otherwise struggles, to put it mildly. The coaching staff limited him to 9 throws in the first half, trying to protect him while challenging the line and running backs to step up.
On the 1 play of Penn State’s first 7 that Keyvone Lee didn’t carry the ball, Clifford was sacked. Late in the first half he seemed to wobble off the field after another sack. In the second half, he got knocked off his feet by a clearly late hit that somehow didn’t draw a flag.
“It’s football. You’re gonna take shots. That’s how the game is,” Clifford said.
The 6-2, 220-pound senior took 4 sacks and had 1 other rushing attempt, losing 28 yards. That lowered his season rushing total to 145 yards, which is still third-best on the team.
“Obviously we had to be smart,” Franklin said. “He was limited today, that’s why we tried to mix the run and the pass in there to take some of that off him. Obviously, it’s a big part of his game that he didn’t have today.”
Now, it’s on to Ohio State. The No. 20 Lions (5-2) will visit the No. 5 Buckeyes (6-1) for an ABC primetime game Saturday night at The Horseshoe in Columbus.
“We’re gonna bounce back, there’s not a question in my mind,” Clifford asserted in his postgame comments. “I’m trying to get as healthy as I can be. … We got a lot of football in front of us.”
Whether he can actually do that coming off a painful (on multiple levels) walk-off, bottom-of-the-9th-overtime loss remains an open question. In another day or 2, we’ll find out if the talk of Roberson or Veilleux possibly starting comes up again. Clifford expects — or at least hopes — that he’ll be able to play his full game 5 days from now. When asked about running the ball, he said: “I’ll keep getting better, and I’ll keep being able to push that a little bit more.”
In Penn State’s last 5 games against Ohio State, a quarterback has led the team in carries 4 times. If Clifford isn’t a full-go, the Lions’ already seemingly impossible task becomes exponentially harder.
You can count on him to give it everything he has. We just don’t know how much that is right now.