Throughout his first three games as Penn State’s starting quarterback, Sean Clifford has shown how tough he is on the field, carrying the football on run-pass option plays and standing tall in the pocket against the rush.
Clifford shows another area of toughness off the field, in his self-evaluation of his performance when speaking to the media. That was especially true after Saturday’s 17-10 win over Pittsburgh, when he completed 14 of 30 passes and missed all five of the downfield shots taken by the Nittany Lions.
“I need to get better,” he said. “I missed my shots, and that’s on me. It’s not on anybody else. I need to have an enhanced focus during the week on [downfield] shots.
“You get used to hitting big plays. I wouldn’t say that during the week I lost focus on that, but I think that I got a little comfortable and I just need to focus up on the explosive passes. I’m putting that on myself, nobody else.”
He hasn’t done badly so far. Clifford has completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 781 yards and six touchdowns, with no interceptions. His 298.0-yard average in total offense is first in the Big Ten and 22nd in FBS, and he ranks third in the conference and 22nd in the nation in passing efficiency.
He has 14 completions of 20 yards or longer, including two against Pitt when KJ Hamler and Ricky Slade took short passes and turned them into gains of 53 and 40 yards, respectively. He is sixth in the nation with a 17.75-yard average per completion.
In a conference call with reporters last week, Clifford said he disliked complimenting himself.
“There’s always something you can do better,” the 6-foot-2, 216-pound redshirt sophomore said. “I think that Tom Brady would also say that he’s got things that he needs to work on. I think that that’s throughout every player in football. I’ve always taken that as one of my mottos, keep myself working, never get complacent. So I think it’s a pretty good one especially for young players.”
Clifford has worked hard to make himself an all-around quarterback. He met with his receivers throughout the summer and developed chemistry with them. He has increased his strength and speed. He ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash earlier this year.
He surprised many earlier this month when he raced for 58 yards against Buffalo, a career best.
“I’ve been doing it ever since high school,” said Clifford, of Cincinnati. “That’s what people don’t understand, that this wasn’t completely new to me. I think in college, everything gets a little bit faster. So it’s just getting used to the pace of the game, seeing the guys on defense.
“Everybody knows that experience is the most valuable asset that you can acquire. So I think that over more time, I’ll get better with it.”
Clifford was sacked three times by Pitt last weekend and took his share of hits but shrugged it off.
“It’s football. You get hit. That’s just how it is,” he said. “If I’m not coming out a little bit sore, then we either blew out the team or I don’t know if I did my job. Sometimes you’ve got to stand in there and take a hit; sometimes you’ve got to make a run. I think you’re always going to be sore.”
The Lions have this week off before beginning their Big Ten schedule Sept. 27 at Maryland. Clifford will continue to watch film and critique himself to prepare for tough games ahead.