For Clif­ford, al­ways some­thing to work on

Quar­ter­back keeps proper per­spec­tive as he pre­pares for 1st Power 5 op­po­nent

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Mark Wo­gen­rich

Penn State quar­ter­back Sean Clif­ford has launched a quick start to his ca­reer, com­pil­ing the na­tion’s fourth-high­est passer rat­ing through the sea­son’s in­fancy.

That said, Clif­ford finds no time for back-pat­ting as the Li­ons pre­pare to host Pitt on Satur­day. Fur­ther, the red­shirt sopho­more said he’s not in­ter­ested in it.

“I re­ally do not en­joy com­pli­ment­ing my­self, prob­a­bly [be­cause] there’s al­ways some­thing you can do bet­ter,” Clif­ford said. “If I broke down Tom Brady’s film, I could prob­a­bly tell you some­thing he could do bet­ter. I’m not say­ing that I have any right to be cri­tiquing Tom Brady. But at the same time, I think that Tom Brady would also say that he has things he needs to work on.”

As he pre­pares for his first start against a Power 5 op­po­nent, Clif­ford finds plenty of flaws from his first two weeks of game film. He could be much bet­ter on third down — only two FBS teams have con­verted fewer third downs than Penn State, which is 3 for 17.

Clif­ford also an­tic­i­pates de­vel­op­ing a quicker sense for read­ing de­fenses against the run. He has car­ried the ball more than any Penn State run­ning back through two games and would like to gauge bet­ter when to hand the ball off and when to keep it him­self.

But Clif­ford leads the Big Ten in yards per com­ple­tion (18.63), has com­pleted 12 passes longer than 20 yards and hasn’t com­mit­ted a turnover. As growing pains go, he’s han­dling them.

“I just keep see­ing him get­ting bet­ter, get­ting more con­fi­dent, get­ting more re­laxed,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “You know, get­ting more as­sertive in some ar­eas. And I think you’re just go­ing to see, be­cause the way he ap­proaches things, him and [fel­low quar­ter­back] Will Le­vis, that they are

just go­ing to con­tinue to get bet­ter. It’s go­ing to be grad­ual.”

Be­fore the sea­son, Penn State of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ricky Rahne said that he ex­pected Clif­ford to be a big-play quar­ter­back, con­sid­er­ing his abil­ity to throw the deep ball. That has been true so far: 40% of Clif­ford’s com­ple­tions have been for 20 yards or longer, with six pro­duc­ing touch­downs.

Clif­ford is the first Penn State quar­ter­back to throw six touch­down passes in his first two games since Daryll Clark in 2008. In ad­di­tion, he has the team’s sec­ond-long­est run, a 58-yarder against Buf­falo that helped set up a touch­down.

“Noth­ing that any­one has brought [de­fen­sively] has sur­prised me, be­cause I learned a lot from Trace [McSor­ley] when he was here,” Clif­ford said. “I was in his ear con­stantly, talk­ing to him about cov­er­ages and what it’s like to be un­der the lights.”

In the run game, Clif­ford said he feels con­fi­dent in his de­ci­sion-mak­ing, which has trended to­ward his keep­ing the ball. Clif­ford leads the team in car­ries with 18; no run­ning back has more than 11.

He also is tied for the lead in rush­ing yards (108) with Devyn Ford, whose to­tal in­cludes an 81-yard touch­down run.

For Clif­ford, the learn­ing process has been grad­ual. On his first series against Idaho, Clif­ford was stopped on first and goal af­ter keep­ing the ball when run­ning back Ricky Slade likely would have scored. And against Buf­falo, Clif­ford car­ried the ball 11 times, the same num­ber as all four backs com­bined.

Franklin said this week that the run­ning back ro­ta­tion will con­tinue, though the backs got lit­tle work last week against Buf­falo. Clif­ford car­ried 11 times for 51 yards in that game; Penn State’s four backs ran 11 times for 39 yards.

Clif­ford said that, over time, he’ll get bet­ter know­ing when to run.

“Each read is dif­fer­ent in its own re­gard,” Clif­ford said. “You’re read­ing the de­meanor of guys and where guys are on the field. There’s just a lot that goes into it.”

Clif­ford said he ex­pects Pitt’s de­fense to lean on Penn State’s run game, and re­ceiver Ja­han Dot­son ex­pects to see tighter man-to-man cov­er­age than in the first two games. For Clif­ford, that means more to cri­tique.

He’s look­ing for­ward to it.

“I’m ex­cited,” Clif­ford said. “I need to stay locked in and fo­cused on each and every play, es­pe­cially on third down. That’s def­i­nitely one big cri­tique.”

BARRY REEGER/AP

Penn State quar­ter­back Sean Clif­ford has the na­tion’s fourth-high­est passer rat­ing. He’s also a threat to run.

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