By Lewis Gould
Sean Clifford is Penn State’s 6th-year quarterback.
You read that right.
So, you would think that he has experienced everything.
He connected with Keyvone Lee on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 57 seconds left, rallying the Nittany Lions to a 35-31 victory in their season opener at Purdue.
“It was very impressive,” coach James Franklin said when asked about the eight-play, 80-yard drive. “We work on the 2-minute drill all the time and it worked out for us right there. You can learn a lot in games like this and I’d rather learn them with a win.”
Clifford narrowly escaped a right leg injury in the first half then dealt with cramps in the second half, forcing him to miss a series in the third quarter.
He appeared to put the Nittany Lions in control by hooking up with Brenton Strange, who broke two tackles on his way to a 67-yard score with 2 seconds left in the first half. That gave the Nittany Lions a 21-10 lead.
He didn’t complete a pass after returning in the third quarter and then almost gave the game away when he overthrew Mitchell Tinsley and Chris Jefferson picked off the errant pass and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown to give the Boilermakers a 31-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
And then, he came through in the clutch to give Penn State its 10th straight win in the series. Clifford finished 20 of 37 with 282 yards and four scores
It sure wasn’t easy in front of a near-capacity crowd and a game that featured seven lead changes.
“It was a gutsy win,” Franklin said. “We showed a lot of character. We’ve got to make more plays on offense, obviously.”
Penn State’s defense also had to contend with a little bit of everything. King Doerue ran for two scores, Aidan O’Connell threw for 356 yards and another score and he celebrated his 24th birthday by connecting with childhood friend Charlie Jones 12 times for 153 yards and a 17-yard TD pass.
Still, they came up one first down — and perhaps one replay review that overturned a late catch — short.
“Every loss hurts and we had this one right where we wanted it — a chance to seal the game, one more first down we win the game,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. “We apologize (to the fans) we weren’t able to get it done.”