It was reasonable to think that Sean Clifford would be tested in his first road game as starting quarterback. Coming off a week three victory against Pitt, Clifford was often battered by the Panthers defense as they forced him to misfire on several throws throughout the afternoon. Maryland came into the game averaging four sacks per contest, and would assuredly work to get in Clifford’s face and force him out of rhythm. However, the Terps never found a way to rattle Clifford as he offered a pitch-perfect performance to led the way to a 59-0 explosion that sent a statement to the rest of the Big Ten.
Clifford looked like a battle-tested upperclassman rather than a quarterback making his first start on the road. He showed poise as he continually diagnosed the soft spots in the Terps defense and placed the ball exactly where it was needed for his receivers to keep the chains moving, and to keep lighting up the scoreboard. Clifford connected on 26 of his first 31 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns. In terms of passing yards, it was the third-most productive day for a Penn State quarterback. Clifford’s 287 passing yards in the first half set a school mark, topping the best signal-callers in program history.
Clifford did throw his first interception — impressive in its own right it took through four games for a brand new quarterback to finally turn the ball over. It wasn’t the safest pass, but it took an exceptional play by Maryland safety Nick Cross downfield on the sideline to earn Clifford’s first career interception.
Throughout the first four games of the Sean Clifford era, the redshirt sophomore has played well beyond his experience level. Friday night was the exclamation point that made it clear the Penn State offense is in for some exciting things with Clifford under center.
LBs Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa- Penn State’s defense displayed blinding speed all night, yielding next to nothing against what was supposed to be an explosive Terps offense. Even more impressive, it was done without one of the nation’s most physically-gifted player after Micah Parsons was ejected for an early targeting penalty. But Brooks and Luketa proved just how scary the depth is at Linebacker U. Both starred throughout the evening, regularly making plays all over the field. Brooks led the team with six tackles and 2.5 sacks, while Luketa tied for second with five tackles and a pass breakup. The two sophomores more than proved they’re ready to play a big part in Penn State’s defense moving forward.
WR KJ Hamler- It’s getting to the point where you can just sit back and wait for a big play by Hamler, as defenses can only contain him so often. Hamler led the team with six receptions and 108 receiving yards and a touchdown. His 58-yard TD reception showed ridiculous footwork and quickness as he escaped the Maryland secondary to find his way into the end zone. It gave Penn State an early 14-0 lead that helped accelerate the blowout victory.
The Wild Dogs- Penn State’s defensive line just would not quit, blowing up play after play after play in the Maryland backfield. It’s clear that all the players in the rotation are physical, fast and never even consider taking a play off. All performed well from top to bottom, from veterans like Yetur Gross-Matos, Shaka Toney and Shane Simmons regularly disrupting plays, to new faces like Jayson Oweh and Adisa Isaac showing they they are ready to be difference-makers. The depth will do wonders as the season continues.