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Sean Clifford Enters Symbolic Performance In White Out Win Over Minnesota

As Sean Clifford’s name flashed on the big screen during Penn State’s starting lineup announcements, Beaver Stadium erupted. Some cheered, but a non-negligible number of fans expressed their distaste.

As Penn State’s offense opened the game with a three-and-out, confusingly staying on as the punt unit also took the field, an even larger portion of the crowd showered the team in boos.

The three-and-out on Penn State’s following offensive drive only solidified the impatient environment and Clifford’s overthrown interception seemed to be the nail in the coffin. Noticeable chants of “we want Drew” emanated from the student section.

This was the exact situation many unhappy Nittany Lion fans predicted. Clifford makes bad throws. Clifford collapses under pressure. Clifford doesn’t win games, he just avoids losing them.

Except the night didn’t end there. Clifford finished his last White Out early, subbing out during the fourth quarter after building a more-than-adequate four touchdown lead. The sixth-year senior was an enormous factor in Penn State’s 45-17 clobbering of Minnesota Saturday night.

Clifford ended the night completing 23-of-31 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns. He particularly excelled in the deep passing game, completing 8-of-11 throws over 15 yards or more in the air. The veteran signal caller made impacts outside the stat sheet as well, spinning out of multiple would-be sacks and adjusting protections and plays before the ball was even snapped.

Early in the third quarter, a Minnesota defender came free and flipped Clifford upside down, as the quarterback would say after the game. Standing tall to take the hit, Clifford launched a 35-yard rainbow to Parker Washington in the end zone, increasing the lead to two scores.

The touchdown, which head coach James Franklin described as “big time” and “one of the better throws I’ve seen Sean make,” was something of a visual metaphor for Clifford’s White Out performance. Facing inevitable punishment, No. 14 braced himself for impact, but not before delivering his best shot.

A questionable medical status and the embarrassing nature of the previous week’s loss to Michigan created a radioactive combination for Clifford’s potential as starting quarterback entering the game. Critics loudly called for the highly-touted true freshman backup Drew Allar to assume the lead role.

Instead, Clifford earned the spot. And he performed.

If their postgame press conferences are any indication, the patience for outside noise appears to be wearing thin when it comes to those within the program.

“I have no reaction to those types of things,” Franklin said, when asked about the disappointed crowd response. “As you guys know, I’m proud of Sean.”

When a reporter asked about how Clifford “struggled a little bit early,” Franklin interrupted with a question of his own: “you mean our offense struggled early?”

The quarterback himself was asked about the negative fan response to him before and during the game. After curtly dismissing questions about his injury prognosis and interception, Clifford offered a deliberate statement addressing the persistent soundtrack of boos.

“Realistically, we have a passionate fanbase. I understand that,” Clifford said. “They can think what they want to think, but I’m gonna focus on what I can do on the field.”

Even the characteristically soft-spoken wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley shared words defending his quarterback, whose frequent Applebee’s trips and Thursday Night Football watch parties the recent transfer credits with helping him feel comfortable among his new teammates.

“Everybody makes mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes today too. Especially at his position, everybody kinda just sees them,” Tinsley said. “I feel like too many people are too harsh on him. I think he does a really good job. He cares about this program and this university.”

Echoing Tinsley’s sentiments about the program, Clifford described his loyalty to Penn State.

“I’m gonna give my heart and my soul every single time I step on that field and nobody can take that away from me. I know that for a fact,” Clifford said. “I’m just gonna focus on the program, the people on our team, and then that’s about it.”

The program shows no visible signs of frustration with Clifford, despite what some may speculate about the other quarterbacks. After his deep second-quarter touchdown pass to Tyler Warren, a very animated Allar and Christian Veilleux met Clifford on the field, celebrating and jostling around. After a later touchdown pass, Franklin physically restrained Allar and Beau Pribula from running onto the field to celebrate some more.

“Those are my guys. They’ll ride with me throughout the whole season,” Clifford said. “We really do have a great room. I can’t say enough of it. Just from the depth we have, the talent that we have, and on top of that, just the camaraderie and the friendship between all of us. It really is cool. It’s one of my favorite rooms I’ve ever been a part of in my whole time playing football. I can’t give enough credit to those guys – telling me what they see, always communicating, [and] always keeping my head up, so [I] really appreciate it.”

Mistakes aside, it’s not hard to see why Penn State is so vehement in its support of him. Captaining the one-loss team, Clifford has had a productive season with the Nittany Lions, amassing 1,150 passing yards, 141 rushing yards, and 13 total touchdowns – nine through the air and four on the ground.

“If you look around the country, there’s a lot of programs that would be super excited and happy about Sean Clifford being the quarterback. And what he was able to do tonight against one of the better defenses in the country, I’m real proud of,” Franklin said. “I’m a supporter of Sean Clifford.”

The 2022 White Out served as a symbolic performance for Clifford, especially on the heels of the Nittany Lions’ devastating loss to Michigan. With a Big Noon date with Ohio State looming around the corner, Penn State will need Clifford to maintain Saturday’s form (among other things) in order to capitalize on the team’s renewed momentum.

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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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