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MMQB - The Return of the King

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Oh captain, my captain

Heather Weikel | Black Shoe Diaries

Penn State is 3-0, having played one of the hardest schedules in the country to date, and sits at #6 in the country for its efforts.

A large part of that has to do with the re-emergence of quarterback Sean Clifford.

In 2019, Clifford took over as starter after Trace McSorley headed off to the NFL, and put together a statistically sound campaign. The redshirt sophomore completed 59.2% of his passes for 2,654 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He added in 402 rushing yards, and 5 touchdowns on the ground, as he guided Penn State to an 11-2 record and a record-setting Cotton Bowl win over Memphis.

For as good as 2019 was for Sean, 2020 was . . . not.

Thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, paired with a change at offensive coordinator, Clifford regressed. For most of the season, it seemed like Sean was a round peg in Kirk Ciarrocca’s square offense. The Lions stumbled to an 0-5 record, and Sean was benched midway through the season.

Will Levis took his shot at the starting gig, but after his own struggles, Sean returned. It seemed like the temporary benching lit a fire under him. The team rebounded to win their last 4 games, and the inner, fiery competitiveness appeared to be back for Clifford.

2021 has seen a complete renaissance for Sean. From the start, Clifford has seemed much more comfortable in new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s offense. This resurgence has most recently been topped by one of the best statistical games I’ve ever seen a Penn State quarterback put on.

In the White Out game against Auburn, Sean Clifford was masterful. He completed 28 of his 32 passes - an 88% completion rate - for 280 yards, and 2 touchdowns. He added in 6 carries for another 16 yards on the ground, in a game where he stayed patient in the pocket, progressed through his reads, called effective audibles at the line, scrambled when needed, and threw frozen ropes.

To date, the Penn State defense has led the charge for the Lions, shutting down their first three opponents while the offense gets its feet under it. But if Sean Clifford continues to play the way he did against Auburn - or somehow manages to improve even further - look out college football.

You’re witnessing the return of the king.