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Sean Clifford Exits Michigan With Undisclosed Injury, Clouding Offense’s Future

When freshman quarterback Drew Allar took the field Saturday with 11 minutes remaining, it felt monumental. With Clifford nowhere to be found on the sideline, Allar’s redshirt officially burned, and Michigan leading 34-17, it was easy to believe a changing of the guard was underway.

The change’s catalyst proved to be less climactic (and all too familiar) when Clifford was later seen on the sideline, periodically checking in and out of the medical tent.

In his postgame press conference, the media asked James Franklin to explain the quarterback change and if Allar’s spot would carry over to October 22’s White Out. Penn State’s head coach provided only a three-word response: “Sean got hurt.”

Standing on the sideline around Franklin and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, Clifford was without his shoulder pads and helmet – every now and then tugging at his right shoulder.

It’s hard to definitively say when Clifford got injured, especially with Franklin’s documented refusal to reveal details, but the sixth-year senior took a huge shot on his 13-yard scramble in the third quarter.

After the hit, Clifford returned for another drive but didn’t seem to take excessive punishment, even with a sack.

Penn State now faces something of an offensive dilemma. If Clifford’s not at 100%, Franklin will have to decide whether Allar is ready to unseat him, even if temporarily. If Clifford is cleared, the question will likely still loom.

Before his premature exit, Clifford completed a paltry 37% of his passes. Throwing 7-for-19, Clifford racked up 120 yards through the air and 72 yards on the ground, including his 62-yard streak to set up Penn State’s first score of the day.

Though Clifford showed off evasive footwork and good ball placement, his unremarkable performance was still a contributing factor to the Nittany Lions’ 41-17 loss. Allar did not fare much better. The freshman completed 5-of-10 passes, took a sack, and badly underthrew a deep Mitchell Tinsley in one-on-one coverage.

It’s hard to isolate the correct quarterback takeaways on a day that got wildly out of control for Penn State. The running backs could not run the ball, the offensive line was categorically weak, and the defense allowed Michigan to rush at will. Both Nittany Lion quarterbacks fell victim to their team’s overwhelming situation, but also didn’t do much to individually improve it.

So, how do Franklin and Yurcich move forward?

With 4-2 Minnesota and No. 2 Ohio State on the horizon, the answer is not obvious. Clifford offers more maturity in his delivery and pocket presence, but his history while playing hurt doesn’t exactly project confidence. Allar’s strong arm offers an untapped potential, but he is raw, and though Franklin understandably won’t discuss the specifics, the coaching staff believes the freshman has targetable weaknesses.

Even if Penn State loses to Ohio State on October 29, winning out would still clinch a 10-win season and a probable New Year’s Six bowl berth, so punting on the year for developmental purposes seems foolish. Still, given the unknown circumstances of Clifford’s health, the best option may be to give Allar a shot. It remains to be seen.

The question marks surrounding the Nittany Lions’ offense only add to what will be a taxing week of preparation for the team. Players and coaches were already going to have to overcome their emotions and implement adjustments ahead of their next conference opponent. Now, they may have to prepare without a comfortable idea of who will be under center come Saturday.

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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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