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Sean Clifford’s Four Turnovers Prove Fatal In Ohio State Loss

Different year, same stuff.

Penn State suffered a heartbreaking 44-31 loss to Ohio State in Beaver Stadium Saturday afternoon. The final score doesn’t explain how close the game was, though. The Nittany Lions led 21-16 with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter when Kaytron Allen barely got his way into the end zone for a crucial touchdown.

In the end, the main difference in this game was the four turnovers, three interceptions and a fumble, given up by quarterback Sean Clifford.

Despite being 15.5-point underdogs coming into the game, Penn State had a legitimate chance of upsetting the Buckeyes in Beaver Stadium. Manny Diaz’s defense hung tough time and time again and basically suffocated Heisman candidate C.J. Stroud in the first three quarters. Penn State’s offense was doing its part too, but the turnovers proved too costly.

Clifford threw two interceptions on Penn State’s first two offensive drives of the game. The first pick was batted in the air and finished by Ohio State’s Zach Harrison. One could argue that it was just a very good play by the Buckeyes’ defense.

The next one wasn’t so pretty, though. After Ohio State’s Noah Ruggles missed a 53-yard field goal attempt, Penn State got the ball back. Clifford threw the interception on 3rd and 3 when he tried to fit the ball into the hands of Kaytron Allen on a short pass, but the route was jumped by J.T. Tuimolau.

After those turnovers, Clifford and Penn State’s offense began to roll, scoring 14 points in the second quarter and outgaining Ohio State 180 yards to 95 in the frame to take the 14-13 lead at halftime. In the fourth quarter, Penn State jumped out to a 21-16 lead. Things were looking great, but the Buckeyes stormed right back down the field with a 41-yard touchdown run from TreVeyon Henderson to give the Buckeyes a 23-21 lead with 8:51 left.

Still, Penn State wasn’t dead. With the offensive momentum it had, Clifford and Co. had the opportunity to put together a crucial legacy drive to give Penn State the lead. That didn’t happen. Clifford was strip-sacked by Tuimoloau and the Buckeyes recovered the ball, which was the turning point of the game.

Penn State got the ball back down two touchdowns, but Clifford threw a pick-six to, of course, Tuimoloau.

You can say the four turnovers weren’t Clifford’s fault and that the team around him needs to play better, but you just can’t have that many giveaways to a dominant team like Ohio State because it will take advantage, and it did. Not only did the Buckeyes score 14 points off the turnovers, it definitely didn’t help with trying to recapture any momentum. Head coach James Franklin thought so as well in his postgame press conference.

“You can’t turn the ball over that many times against that type of opponent and think you’re going to be successful,” he said. “That’s something we have done a good job of this year, but we did not today.”

Franklin was then asked about Clifford’s play, and he was definitely more than blunt.

“I thought [Clifford] played gutsy and made some big-time plays, but, obviously, you can’t have the turnovers,” he said.

He defended Clifford for a brief moment, mentioning that the strip sack wasn’t exactly his fault. He may have been right, as right tackle Bryce Effner got beaten pretty badly by Tuimoloau on that play. But that was the only turnover he believes wasn’t wrongdoing of Clifford.

“But the other ones…you’ve got to find a throwing lane,” he said. “Again, I thought he played gutsy and did some really good things, but, obviously, there’s some things that gotta get cleaned up too.”

Franklin mentioned the turnovers more throughout his press conference, though, as he definitely seemed frustrated with the four giveaways.

“The game starts and ends with the turnovers,” he later said when asked about how the team collapsed in the fourth quarter. “…[We] played our tail off but made too many critical mistakes.”

Clifford wasn’t ready to assess the turnovers in his postgame media availability, as all he cared about was what ended up in the win/loss column.

“The key stat is obviously win or loss, and we didn’t take care of that,” he said. “So, it’s hard to assess how I played individually. All I know is we didn’t take care of business.”

Coming into the game, Clifford understood that this had the potential to be a game that solidified his legacy in Penn State football history. He was left disappointed after the game, as he took accountability for the giveaways.

“I wasn’t blind to it,” Clifford said when asked about the potential legacy game. “It was definitely a game I wanted to win for our team, but also for personal reasons…We were moving the ball well, but just a couple of turnovers will definitely stop the drives. You just can’t have it.”

As you’d expect with a tough loss like this, the general fan reaction after the game seemed to be that Clifford should not have started against the Buckeyes and that Drew Allar should have played. Well, let me tell you something you’re not going to like to hear.

As good of a prospect as Drew Allar is, there’s a slim chance he would have won that game for Penn State. That’s no knock against him, as he’s going to most likely turn into a stud of a signal caller. But, in terms of maximizing this season’s record and opportunity against the No. 2 team in the country, there was never a doubt that Clifford deserved to be in that spot today.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a senior accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the New York Rangers and Mets, along with every Penn State Athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Rangers and Penn State content or email him at [email protected].

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