Following each season, the BSD staff votes on the 10 best players. A #1 vote is worth 10 points, a #2 vote is nine points, and so on. Today we kick off our Top 10 series with our #10 vote-getter - quarterback Sean Clifford.
If you want a glimpse of Sean Clifford’s career at Penn State, the season opener at Purdue to kickoff the 2022 season had it all wrapped up in one three-hour package.
There was a slow start, followed by stretches where everything was clicking and the offense seemed unstoppable. There was an injury that forced him off the field, only to shake it off and return to the field shortly afterwards. There was that one throw that left fans screaming towards the heavans as Purdue took a lead with a pick-six. Then there was relaible ol’ Cliff when it really mattered - cooly leading the team down the field for six to help Penn State pull out a stunning week one victory.
The game ending in the win column — despite everything that happened before the clock struck 0:00 — was the ultimate takeaway. The ride was bumpy, but in the end Clifford led the Nittany Lions to a thrilling victory that would launch an 11-win season that ended in Pasadena.
Perhaps this moment may sum it up even better. During Penn State’s initial drive of the week three game at Auburn, Clifford gets absolutley lit up on a hit that would have most quarterbacks needed to be helped to the sideline. Not Cliff. He pops right back up to complete 74% of his passes to help the Nittany Lions cruise past Auburn 41-12 in their own house. For good measure, he ran the ball right up the gut for a touchdown shortly after absorbing that devastating hit.
That was the Sean Clifford we got to know during the past four seasons. He’s someone who can handle the worst you have to offer, only to shake it off and offer a championship effort the next play. There was just no keeping #14 down.
Things could have quickly gone downhill following Penn State’s demoralizing loss to Michigan, where the Wolverines outmanned the Nittany Lions in ever conceivable way. But Cliff led the charge the following week, tossing four touchdowns in front of an elated White Out crowd in a 45-17 dismantling of Minnesota. Clifford followed that up with nearly 400 yards passing and three touchdowns against Ohio State’s vaunted defense - although a pair of early turnovers, then a pair of late turnovers, sunk any hope for an upset after a hard-fought afternoon where the Nittany Lions otherwise went toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes.
The loss eliminated any chance of a playoff berth, but Clifford never hung his head and offered some of his best work to lead the way for five consecutive victories to close out the season.
After all the highs and lows of the past four seasons, Clifford sure went out on top. He connected on 19 of 24 pass attempts for four touchdowns and no interceptions in his final outing at Beaver Stadium, a 35-16 victory over Michigan State that launched Penn State into the Rose Bowl. His final pass in Beaver Stadium - just like his first - ended with a touchdown. He also ended the afternoon with 13 consecutive completions, as well ending the game with a first down run — and as much as he didn’t want the moment to end, he wisely slid before going out of bounds to help the clock run out and put victory #10 of the season in the books.
It seemed fit for a storybook ending, but Clifford wasn’t finished. He put together one last masterful performance in his blue and white uniform to lead Penn State to a decisive Rose Bowl victory over Utah. Clifford completed 16-of-21 pass attempts on the day for 279 yards and two touchdowns - including a beautiful 88-yard strike to KeAndre Lambert Smith on third down.
Clifford was named Offensive MVP for the game, with his final moment as a Penn State football player standing atop the podium, holding his head and the trophy high, sporting a fresh Rose Bowl Champions ballcap.
It was quite the journey, but one that ended as a champion.