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Sean Clifford Creating His Own Identity For ‘New Generation’ At Penn State

Sean Clifford has been everything James Franklin and his staff could have hoped for this season. Clifford has taken the reins of the offense and hasn’t looked back by leading Penn State football to a 7-0 record to this point.

Entering this season, Clifford had big shoes to fill as he replaced Penn State legend Trace McSorley., the program’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. Taking McSorley’s place leading the offense was a big ask, and the redshirt sophomore has said in the past that McSorley has helped him a lot.

However, Clifford isn’t here for your comparisons.

“Obviously I’ve said that Trace has helped me a lot, but at the same time, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m trying to create my own identity,” Clifford said. “I’m trying to become the quarterback I want to be.”

Clifford has been one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten this year. He’s ranked second in passing touchdowns and passing yards. Clifford has been growing on and off the field as the season has gone on. He’s grown as a leader, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed — particularly to wide receiver Dan Chisena.

“As the season’s gone on, he’s just grown into that role even more and then just been a really great leader in the locker room and on the field,” Chisena said. “I can’t say enough about how hard he works. It shows, and he works hard to be in that leader role but I think a lot of it just comes from who he is as a person.”

Part of Clifford’s process of figuring out what kind of quarterback he wants to be involves how he carries himself on and off the field. Clifford plays and leads with pure emotion, and he’s the type of player who feeds off energy and emotion. Sometimes, he allows himself to get too jacked up, which James Franklin has touched on in the past.

“We went through the [Iowa] game tape with him and talked about some of the things that hindered his production — his footwork in the pocket and things like that. We address the causes,” Franklin said. “I thought up ’til the beginning of that Iowa game, he’s handled things really well. Whether that’s getting the ball out on time, adjusting the protection to pick up the blitz, or making plays with his feet, he’s done a really good job.”

Franklin knows there are going to be learning experiences for his young quarterback. He knows Clifford is going to make mistakes, but it’s not the fact that he’s making mistakes. It’s how he responds and learns from them.

“He’s going to learn something every game in terms of reading defenses,” Franklin said. “That’s learning something in how he interacts with [offensive coordinator Ricky] Rahne, his teammates — and that’s with the most effective leadership style, as well. He’s a very aware young man, so I think he’s studying all these things.”

“Each week, I’m growing a lot,” Clifford added. “I definitely know the type of quarterback I want to be with my team when it comes from a leadership perspective. I know the quarterback I want to be has to figure out how I want to be in games, how I want to act, when to get excited and when to keep my emotions level.”

Clifford, to this point, has had his hard work pay off. Through seven games, Clifford has thrown for 1,742 yards, 16 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. In addition, he has completed 63% of his passes. Clifford has had a strong contribution with his legs, accumulating 269 yards on the ground and rushing for three touchdowns.

Whether it’s talented, hard-working, or emotional, you can use many adjectives to describe Sean Clifford. One thing, however, stands out to James Franklin: authenticity

“You’ve got to be authentic. You’ve got to be authentic as a coach,” Franklin said. “You’ve got to be authentic as a player, and most importantly you’ve got to be authentic as a leader. I think he’s doing that.”

Despite his great start, Clifford still has a lot he needs to do to get this team to the ~promised land~. Penn State being 7-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country puts it in a great position, but with games left against some tough teams — particularly against No. 17 Minnesota and No. 3 Ohio State, Clifford has to keep improving and playing at a high-level.

Clifford knows what is at stake. He’s aware of the enormous weight that is on his shoulders and he’s ready to face it head-on.

“I’ve been working very hard to bring a new generation to Penn State and get this thing going.” Clifford said.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

After a four-year career with Onward State, Gabe is now a college graduate and off to the real world. He shockingly served as the blog’s managing editor during the 2022-23 school year and covered football for much of his Onward State tenure, including trips to the Outback Bowl and Rose Bowl. For any professional inquiries, please email Gabe at [email protected]. You can still see his bad sports takes on Twitter at @gabeangieri.

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