The first game of the season is in the book, a 79-7 shellacking of the Idaho Vandals. And looking at that final score, you may be hard pressed to find many issues from the team.
But truthfully, even in games that are blowouts nearly from the start, there are things that can be improved upon.
For Sean Clifford, in his first start at Penn State, the big game atmosphere got to him more than he thought it would. When asked how he would assess his first game as a starter, Sean said “...I would need to look at that but the first two drives were not up to my standards. I was nervous to be honest with you, and I let that affect me. My feet were kind of all over the place....”
Which, frankly, is exactly what I saw through the first two drives, which both ended in field goals.
On the first drive, Clifford started off with an 11 yard pass to Justin Shorter on the very first play. Two plays later, on first and goal from the 7, Sean ran for 4 yards to the 3 yard line. On second and goal, a pass intended for KJ Hamler was broken up, swatted down at the line. And on third and goal, a miscommunication in the run-pass option resulted in a fumble, that Clifford was lucky to fall on. Jake Pinegar booted a field goal to put the good guys on the board.
On the second drive, first down saw a pass go sailing over Pat Freiermuth, falling incomplete. After no gain on the ground by Ricky Slade, another pass went incomplete, this time intended for Daniel George. This time a 53 yard field goal from Jordan Stout doubled the Nittany Lion lead.
After those first two drives, which saw Clifford go 1-of-4 for 11 yards?
Sean went 13-of-19 for 269 yards and two touchdowns. A completion percentage over 68% - which, when you consider that one of those incompletions was due to defensive pass interference, bumps the percentage up over 73%.
So sure, the game was a romp. After the first two drives, Penn State scored more or less at will, and cleared the benches. But if I were a betting man, I’d say that Sean Clifford will be dissecting those first two drives just a little bit more, and learning how to settle down, even on the big stage.
And if I were a betting man, I’d say he’ll do exactly that.
On to Buffalo!