Penn State Football

Sean Clifford’s Legs, Not Arm, Key to Penn State Football Victory Saturday in the Big House 

Nittany Lions Quarterback Sean Clifford has been hearing the critics his entire Penn State Football career, but probably never louder than he has recently as the new kid on the block, 5-star recruit Drew Allar, has shined in backup duties this season. 

A lackluster at-best performance from the sixth year signal caller against Northwestern in a rain soaked Beaver Stadium two weeks ago opened the door for much of that criticism, but despite that head coach James Franklin has shown no willingness to make a move with the Lions sitting at 5-0 and currently ranked 10th in the nation. 

Their toughest test yet however looms as the Nittany Lions will travel to Ann Arbor to take on the No. 5 ranked Wolverines, in what serves as a legacy game of sorts for Clifford. The focus has been on what he can or cannot do with his arm against Michigan, but the real measure of how successful he and this offense will be Saturday starts with his legs. 

Clifford has rushed for 964 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career with Penn State Football, but only 67 yards through five games this year. It may be becoming a bit of a trend under Mike Yurcich, as he only rushed for 163 yards last season, but the broken rib most definitely played  a factor in 2021. 

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Previous matchups with Michigan in 2020 and 2021 as well as their defensive style under defensive new coordinator Jesse Minter lends you to believe that he may need his legs in this one. 

In 2020, albeit under a different DC, Clifford ran nine times for 73 yards and a touchdown.

In last season’s matchup, the quarterback rushed 16 times for only 16 yards but those stats are skewed by sacks, as he was killing the Wolverines, particularly early escaping the pocket, including an 18 year scamper to set the Lions up in the red zone. 

Michigan’s defensive scheme is similar to that of last year, and it’s a rather simple one. Despite losing edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo to the NFL this offseason, they are dependent upon getting pressure with their front four, and they are going to play press man and drop a safety or two to help those corners on the outside. 

With the Wolverines playing so much man, that gives Clifford a look at the backs of defenders as they chase wide receivers and tight ends down field and should open up running lanes.

The success of Clifford’s running cannot and will not be measured in yards, yard per carry or touchdowns. It will though be measured in how and when he can extend a drive with that back breaking 8 yard scramble on third and seven. Or like in their win at Auburn, where he kept it in the red zone and scored on their first red zone possession. 

Those plays where can scamper for a first down, and is also deceptively and surprisingly fast in the open field always seem to be momentum builders for the offense, but also himself. They will need to steal a few first downs and possessions with his legs if they are going to leave the Big House victorious. 

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