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Sean Clifford ‘Back To Himself’ In Mistake-Free Performance

It all went right for Penn State football in its first win of the season over Michigan Saturday.

A dominant pass defense, productive rushing from two true freshmen, and timely stops were just a few things that helped lead the Nittany Lions to a much-needed victory. Sean Clifford wasn’t necessarily the MVP of Saturday’s win, but the redshirt junior did exactly what he needed to do to help Penn State come out on top.

Clifford entered Saturday’s game with eight interceptions on the year, and at least one turnover in all five of Penn State’s games this season. He didn’t start last weekend against Iowa due to those turnover issues, but the young gunslinger was clearly motivated to right the ship against the Wolverines at the Big House.

Clifford finished his afternoon with 17 completions worth 163 yards, rushed for 73 yards and a score, and only took one sack. Most importantly, however, he played turnover-free football.

“I think the biggest thing is obviously no turnovers,” James Franklin said postgame. “That’s been the issue that’s we’ve been battling and working through all year long.”

There’s no doubt the Nittany Lions have been battling the turnover bug all season, and Saturday’s win proved just how key it is to be careful with the ball. While Clifford didn’t take many deep shots down field, his efficient decision-making mixed with a productive run game made for some entertaining Penn State drives.

Long-lasting drives have been few and far between for the Nittany Lions this year, but Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense finally put together some productive possessions against Michigan. In fact, an eight-play, 76-yard drive in the second quarter was capped off by an electric rush from Clifford.

Clifford made it look easy on the big-time touchdown rush, as he turned on the burners to give Penn State the lead heading to the locker room. It’s big plays like that one the quarterback has struggled to make consistently this season, but his teammates aren’t surprised in the slightest that he’s back to his normal self.

First on that list of teammates is redshirt senior center Michal Menet, who knows his quarterback better than just about anyone else.

“I’ve never wavered in Cliff’s ability,” Menet said. “I’ve never stopped trusting or lost any faith in him whatsoever. He was playing confident and was careful with the football, and I’m not gonna sit here and act like I’m surprised. To see him back to himself and just having fun out there, it just made me so happy.”

While he’s not necessarily on the field with Clifford, PJ Mustipher shared a similar sentiment. He was likely focused on his solid defensive performance and finishing the day with five total tackles, but Mustipher appreciates just how much Clifford has battled this season.

“He’s a true warrior,” Mustipher said. “He’s faced adversity this season, but he’s never quit and never given up. He’s led this team through ups and downs, and that’s a sign of a true leader.

“He had a great performance today, and I know he’s gonna continue to play great football. That’s what I expect from Sean Clifford,” Mustipher added.

While it’s clearly nice to get a win, there’s no denying the fact that Penn State is still a 1-5 football team. It’s hardly been an easy year for any of the Nittany Lions, but Saturday’s performance, specifically Clifford’s, is certainly a reassuring sign for the rest of the way.

For the quarterback, he feels the key for him Saturday and the rest of the way will be his ability to stay in a rhythm as he leads the offense.

“I’m actually minoring in psychology, and one thing we’ve talked about is when an athlete gets in their state of flow,” Clifford said. “It’s definitely a game-changer and it’s fun when you can just play loose. After a couple losses this year, I feel like it’s been tough to find that. But today I just kinda let loose and had fun with my teammates, and was back to the Sean that I used to be.”

Clifford certainly looked more loose against Michigan Saturday afternoon, and he’ll try to keep those good vibes rolling when the Nittany Lions travel to Rutgers next weekend.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a junior majoring in digital and print journalism and is Onward State's sports editor. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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