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On Sean Clifford's Durability: 'So Far, So Good,' James Franklin Says

The Penn State QB has bounced up from some big hits. He's also making good use of the Lions' big wins.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford has taken a few shots this season, notably against Purdue and Auburn, and bounced right back up after them. In fact, he ran sneaks soon after hits in both games, one for a touchdown.

Since Clifford has absorbed more than three years of hits, including one that cost him the second half of Penn State's 2021 game at Iowa, his health remains at the forefront for Penn State. As a result, Penn State coach James Franklin was asked about Clifford's ongoing durability during a post-practice media session Wednesday.

"So far, so good," Franklin told reporters in State College. "He's in a really good position, probably as good as he's been at this point in the season, knock on wood."

No. 11 Penn State hosts Northwestern at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, after which the team gets a week off before entering a challenging three-game stretch. The Lions (4-0) will visit Michigan before hosting Northwestern (for the White Out) and Ohio State. By October's end, Penn State will know whether it's a legitimate contender for the Big Ten championship.

Clifford's health will be contingent to a title run. And that has informed the way Penn State has played him this season as well.

The Lions were 5-0 last season when the quarterback got hurt against Iowa. They subsequently blew a 14-point lead, lost the game and went 2-5 thereafter. Clifford played at less than full strength during the second-half of last season, which Franklin acknowledged.

This season, Penn State has benefited from three consecutive comfortable wins. Since leading the Lions on a game-winning drive vs. Purdue, Clifford has played seven fourth-quarter snaps in three games. Quarterbacks Drew Allar and Christian Veilleux have taken those meaningful developmental reps and, in turn, kept Clifford off the field.

Further, Clifford is running less so far this season. The quarterback averaged 5.8 carries through the first four games with a high of eight (with three sacks) vs. Ohio. Last season, Clifford was the team's third-leading rusher, averaged 7.6 carries per game and ran at least 10 times in four games. He led the Lions with 12 carries in the Outback Bowl.

"He's been good," Franklin said. "The way we've been able to get him out of almost every game, that's valuable."

Noteworthy

Two players could return for the Lions on Saturday: offensive lineman Hunter Nourzad and defensive tackle Coziah Izzard. Nourzad, who missed last week's game with "bumps and bruises" Franklin said, is close to returning. Izzard has yet to play this season, but Franklin said his debut is "possible."

Franklin was not asked about running back Keyvone Lee, who did not play vs. Central Michigan.

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Linebacker Jonathan Sutherland is a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, considered the academic Heisman of college football.

Penn State hosts Northwestern at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Beaver Stadium. ESPN will televise.

 

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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.