Clifford, No. 10 Penn State host 17th-ranked Iowa

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) passes over Purdue linebacker Ben Holt (44) in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford aced his first Big Ten road test two weeks ago at Maryland, as he threw for 398 yards and added a quartet of touchdowns to his season’s resume.

The redshirt sophomore will now attempt to duplicate that performance this weekend when the Nittany Lions travel to Iowa.

A self-described film junkie, Clifford’s spent the last several days pouring over tape of his upcoming opponent. The Hawkeyes dropped a 10-3 contest last week against Michigan. 

“That tape is very good from a formation standpoint, seeing what Michigan lined up with," Clifford said. "I think that was a very valuable tape.”

Clifford has amassed 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns against two interceptions this season. Last week, he was named Big Ten co-offensive player of the week following his performance at Maryland. This week he earned Big Ten Rose Bowl player of the week honors after throwing for 264 yards and tallying four touchdowns against Purdue.

The first-year starter has thrown for more than 200 yards in each of his five starts this year, and he accumulated a career-best 398 yards against the Terrapins. An amplified Clifford buzzed from teammate to teammate before kick off against Maryland, and after the game, Penn State players said that energy was infectious.

Penn State coach James Franklin said that intensity is just one of many traits that make Clifford an effective leader.

“He’s a fiery guy,” Franklin said. “He’s a guy who has fun, whether it’s at practice, whether it’s in meetings, he’s got a maturity to him where he knows when’s the appropriate time to have fun, when’s the appropriate time to lock in and be serious and take notes.”

Part of Clifford’s weekly rituals includes studious breakdowns of game film. While it helps him gain insight into what to expect from upcoming opponents, it also allows him to examine his deficiencies. 

“I think each week, you have to find something to critique yourself about,” Clifford said. “Footwork’s been, in the past few weeks, definitely something I’ve been really watching for myself. But I think I’m getting better at it every week, keeping sound footwork throughout the pocket.”

Saturday’s trip to Iowa marks Clifford’s second as a member of the Nittany Lions. He was freshman in 2017 when Penn State earned a 21-19 win. This time, he hopes to lead his team to its third Big Ten win of the season. 

“I do know the environment, and I’m excited to go back there,” he said. “I do remember when I was there, I specifically remember that I had a great warm-up my freshman year, so I’m just trying to transition that into this Saturday.”

Elton Hayes is a veteran sports writer who covers Penn State for CNHI LLC publications. Contact him at ehayes@cnhi.com or follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

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