Sean Clifford’s Solid Blue-White Performance Sets Stage For Intense Quarterback Competiton
James Franklin hasn’t made a decision on who will start at quarterback for his team in 2019, redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford certainly isn’t making that decision any easier.
Clifford started for the Blue team in today’s Blue-White game. He threw for 118 yards and a touchdown, completed 11 of his 18 pass attempts, and he even led his team with 31 yards on the ground.
The Cincinnati native came to Penn State in 2017 as a four-star recruit and the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in the country. After redshirting in his first season, Clifford made a huge splash in 2018 despite attempting just seven passes. He completed his first five attempts for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
The first pass of his collegiate career was as good as it gets for any young quarterback.
“I was little nervous getting out there, honestly,” Clifford said when looking back on the 34-yard touchdown to Brandon Polk. “But I saw that play was called and I was like, ‘alright we’re going deep now.'”
Clifford continued to make big plays in games that Penn State had big leads, including a record-breaking 95-yard touchdown pass against Kent State and a 44-yard bomb to Mac Hippenhammer against Illinois. The young gun even generated some well-deserved Heisman hype for his efforts in garbage time.
All kidding aside, Clifford will be a serious contender for the starting quarterback position next season. He and Tommy Stevens, who didn’t play in the Blue-White game as he deals with a nagging injury, will battle for the job as spring ball comes to an end and the team turns its focus to 2019.
While there will be clearly be plenty of competition, Clifford and the rest of the quarterbacks use that as a positive to motivate each other. He also understands that the goal is to put the best player on the field, and whoever wins in the end earned their starting role.
“Tommy’s a great quarterback, Will [Levis] has a lot of good traits too, and I think [Ta’Quan Roberson and Michael Johnson Jr.] are really good,” Clifford said. “We just have to take it day by day, rep by rep, team period by team period, whatever it may be.
“Whatever happens happens, and we just have to put the best product on the field.”
Over the course of the past few months, Stevens has been billed as the more “mobile” quarterback while Clifford has been considered to be a pocket passer. Today’s performance clearly changed the narrative.
Clifford’s 31 rushing yards on six attempts led the Blue team. His longest run of the day was an 11-yard scamper, and he also picked up six yards with his legs on 4th and 2 to extend his team’s drive.
“I think Clifford is probably a better athlete than people think he is,” offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne said. “He was able to get out of the pocket and make some plays with his feet. Obviously there were a couple times when I wish he would’ve taken the first read and got the ball out of his hands a little bit faster, but in general, I’ve been pleased with the way Cliff has moved in the pocket all spring.”
Despite rushing for a total of -3 yards last season, Saturday was a clear indication that Clifford has the ability to make plays with his feet, which could make him a dangerous player for opposing defenses to deal with. He was confident in his ability use his feet effectively on Saturday afternoon after the scrimmage.
“I think I have a lot of good traits, like a lot of guys in our room,” Clifford said. “I think I’ve shown that I can run the ball a lot better than I came in doing.”
Running was obviously a huge part of Trace McSorley’s game, a player that Clifford clearly learned a whole lot from. Playing as a backup during McSorley’s last two seasons, Clifford will try to use some of what No. 9 taught him during the rest of his time at Penn State and on.
“I always go back to [Trace’s] preparation,” he said. “His preparation is unlike anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s one of those guys that I try to emulate everyday when I come into work.”
While the ability is clearly there for Clifford, taking a “Trace-like” approach to the game will only improve that. His numbers from last season, raw ability, and Blue-White performance all clearly speak for themselves.
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