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Penn State Expecting A ‘100% Healthy’ Sean Clifford Against No. 5 Ohio State

Entering as massive underdogs against No. 5 Ohio State, No. 20 Penn State football will certainly need all hands on deck to keep up with the Buckeyes Saturday night.

First and foremost, the Nittany Lions will need a healthy Sean Clifford — or at least one that’s healthier than in this past weekend’s brutal loss to Illinois. According to James Franklin, the redshirt senior quarterback will be in much better shape at Ohio Stadium than he was against the Fighting Illini.

“Last week, we weren’t sure. We were trying to see where he was gonna be at. Sean’s much further ahead now to being back to 100%,” Franklin said on Tuesday. “I know Sean felt great physically on Sunday…We expect to have a 100% Sean Clifford this weekend.”

Though his injury was never disclosed publicly, Clifford was clearly in pain throughout the day Saturday. The bye week clearly wasn’t enough to fully recover from the game-ending knock he took against Iowa, as he missed on some normally routine passes and struggled to get up from a couple of big hits. Most notably, however, Clifford just didn’t scramble and use his legs the way he had through the first half of the season.

The quarterback finished his afternoon with -28 total rushing yards, which was just the second time in his Nittany Lion career he’s finished with a negative mark in that category. Clifford was also sacked a season-high four times. When the Cincinnati native did slide out of the pocket, he looked indecisive and overly cautious — the opposite of what he’d been up to the Iowa injury.

The lack of that piece of Clifford’s game wasn’t lost on his head coach after the loss Saturday, and he reiterated that sentiment with the media Tuesday.

“That’s a big part of Sean and what his game is — his ability to extend plays…His ability to keep the defense out there and be able to make a play or two throughout the game where he picks up a first down with his legs,” Franklin said. “He was limited, obviously, in what he could do. We tried to limit it as much as we could as well. Obviously, that was the challenge. When you’ve got a guy like Sean and that’s a big part of what he does and how he plays, that being limited obviously impacted him and us.”

Considering how Penn State’s running backs have fared this season against just about any opponent, Clifford’s rushing threat will be needed Saturday night. The Buckeyes are allowing just 117.4 rushing yards per game to opposing offenses, and have a couple of menacing defensive linemen in Haskell Garrett and Zach Harrison, among others.

Clifford confirmed Wednesday afternoon that he “truly believes” he’ll be at 100% by the end of the week. Either way, the quarterback won’t hesitate from putting his body on the line as the Nittany Lions try to avoid a three-game slide. He acknowledged that he was more aware of the hits he took against Illinois, but this week of preparation will help him shake that against the Buckeyes.

“Definitely, I just gotta be a little bit smarter when I’m in a situation like that, just because I know what condition I’m in with my body,” Clifford said. “But at the same time, I’m gonna have to make the plays that are there. If that means sacrificing my body for a first down or a touchdown, I’m gonna do it.”

These past six quarters and change of football have shown just how important Clifford is to Penn State’s offense. The quarterback’s mobility is like oxygen for a Mike Yurcich-led group that just can’t seem to get any consistent production from its running backs.

If Penn State has a fighting chance against Ryan Day’s powerhouse, Clifford’s legs need to be in play. When the ball kicks off at 7:30 p.m., the quarterback is confident he’ll have his full arsenal available.

“You’ll see a difference. I feel a lot better,” Clifford said. “Obviously, I think that my game also adds being able to run. It’s what I pride myself on.

“When I got here, Coach Franklin told me he thought I had the talent to play here, but I had to get faster. I took that to heart and I worked extremely hard on it,” Clifford continued. “That’s one of the things I pride myself on, being able to make those plays when the pocket’s breaking down and you need that extra few yards. I’m looking to have that back to 100% on Saturday.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. 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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