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Drew Allar Looms Behind An Improved Sean Clifford Against Purdue

Penn State-Purdue was confusing. With each team making multiple result altering-blunders, it’s hard to feel comfortable with any decision made because of this game.

In a rollercoaster of a contest, the Nittany Lions saw a highly anticipated debut and a classic game-winning drive – by different quarterbacks. Prior to the game, there was widespread debate about whether sixth-year senior Sean Clifford was the right man to quarterback the team or if he should be replaced with new blood in five-star freshman Drew Allar.

Thursday night’s game only inflamed that debate. In fact, Penn State emerged from its bout with the Boilermakers with arguably less clarity on the situation. There’s currently no good answer on the Clifford-Allar debate. Head coach James Franklin’s gung-ho opening press conference answer summed up the dilemma well.

“Drew did some nice things when he was in,” Franklin said. “But at the end of the day, I thought that [Sean’s] experience there – especially that last drive – really mattered and helped us.”

It was a tale of two halves for the veteran Clifford. In his first half, Clifford showed more discipline than in years past and, despite seeing multiple egregious drops from his receivers, completed a deceptive 8-of-15 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns.

As the Nittany Lion defense took the field in the second half, Clifford jogged to the locker room and Allar began warming up. In his lone series, Allar completed 2-of-4 attempts (should have been three-of-four, but there was yet another bad drop) and energized what could have been a demoralized offensive unit. 2021 Iowa this was not.

When Clifford finally emerged from the locker room and relieved Allar of his position, the sixth-year senior appeared to revert back to the skittish, unpolished version of himself that drew fans’ ire over the last two seasons. Clifford completed just 6-of-15 passes and overthrew a wide open Mitchell Tinsley for one of the worst interceptions of his career, which gave Purdue a pick six and a lead.

In a fourth-quarter two-minute drill, down four points, Clifford led a master class, completing 6-of-7 passes for 72 yards and the game-winning touchdown. After a disastrous half for the quarterback, Clifford returned to his first-half poise when the team needed it most – confusing the hell out of everyone.

If Clifford went into that final drive and disappointed, the takeaway is rather simple: in yet another season, Sean Clifford failed to rise above the given pressure and the ceiling is capped with him under center. Instead, the outlook is uncertain.

Before his self-reported cramping and an IV drip, Clifford looked massively improved compared to last season. His ball placement was spot on, and where last year Clifford might have prematurely bailed out of a dropback for a weak scramble, Thursday he stayed true to the pocket and identified the correct read.

The latter adjustment was one Clifford said was a specific focus of the offseason. He continued to say, in seasons past, his quick-to-run attitude was suboptimal for the team.

“I’m gonna do anything in my power to make the play – to win the game – and I just see myself staying in the pocket more,” Clifford said after the game. “I got a lot of trust in the guys up front, and that’s where it starts… [offensive coordinator Mike] Yurcich has done a really good job of grilling me and making sure that, if I can, [I] stay in the pocket.”

Those improvements will have to stick for Clifford to maintain the starting position throughout this season. Blocking out the disruptive Black Out conditions and the lofty stakes of stepping into a tight conference battle, Allar performed admirably.

With three of his four attempts traveling 15 or more yards in the air, Allar proved he’s not afraid to test his arm and at 6’5″, 242 pounds, he will likely be difficult to bring to the grass. Still, we’ve seen Allar make only 18 throws for Penn State and just four of those have come competitively. He’s not exactly a proven commodity.

Allar’s energy and limitless ceiling may be more promising, but it’s not often true freshmen can make ample noise in the Big Ten. A preserved redshirt and another year within the Yurcich system may set Allar up for valuable development, akin to what Clifford teased early against Purdue.

It remains to be seen which Sean Clifford is his true 2022 version, but if it’s anything resembling his first half and final drive, he is the right man to rally behind. If not, Drew Allar is waiting in the wings, and he looks ready for this moment.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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