THE STORY LINE
After Penn State’s 17-10 victory over Pitt, quarterback Sean Clifford began his routine of studying game film early the next morning. As part of his critique, Clifford watched every incomplete pass he threw to find a common tendency. One emerged: his footwork.
Clifford noticed inconsistent foot placement that led to inconsistent throws: long, high, low, whatever. It became his focus of the bye week.
“The perfect ball is not going to happen every single time,” Clifford said. "But I’ve got guys all across the field that I know can make plays for this team. So I need to give them a chance every single time."
Clifford rolls into Maryland confident that his bye-week reset will have positive benefits. He was the Big Ten’s second-best quarterback (per data from Sports Info Solutions) through the first three weeks but still had changes to make.
Clifford cited footwork and consistent accuracy throwing deep as two primary areas of growth. According to Sports Info Solutions, the Coplay-based analytics firm, Clifford was 6 for 10 on passes of 20 yards or longer in the first two games and 0 for 8 against Pitt. Penn State also wants to improve its third-down passing rate of 38.9 percent.
Maryland will do its best to uproot Clifford’s footwork and third-down efficiency with a pass rush that ranks sixth nationally in sacks (4.33 per game). Clifford can help alleviate those situations by throwing the ball quickly. Offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne can help as well with plays designed for shorter, more immediate throws.
Penn State will continue to take shots downfield, particularly if Maryland follows Buffalo and Pitt’s defensive plans that tempt such throws. The Lions win by two touchdowns if Clifford hits a few.