Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford anticipates being healthy for Saturday's game at Ohio State, allowing him to re-establish the vital running element of his game that was missing last week against Illinois.
Clifford joined head coach James Franklin in saying that he expects to be 100 percent to face the No. 5 Buckeyes, adding that a restored ability to run will revive one of his strengths.
"I think for sure, you'll see a difference," Clifford said Wednesday before the team practiced in State College. "I feel like I’ll be at 100 percent and obviously, being able to run, that’s what I pride myself on."
Added Franklin after practice, "I think he’s got a real chance to be as close to 100 percent as we’ve seen in multiple weeks."
Clifford had five carries for minus-28 yards in Penn State's nine-overtime loss to Illinois, a game in which he was limited by his health and the gameplan that protected it. Four of those carries were sacks; the other was a scramble for minus-2 yards in which Clifford slid to avoid being hit.
Franklin said this week that Clifford "was limited obviously in what he could do" as a runner, which emerged in Penn State's offensive approach. Penn State did not call a designed draw for Clifford, and the quarterback could not scramble to avoid pressure and extend plays.
Clifford said that "I really, truly believe that I will be at 100 percent by the end of the week," which will make him a more effective and comfortable runner against the Buckeyes.
"When I got here, coach Franklin told me that he thought I had a talent to play here but I had to get faster," Clifford said. "So I took that to heart and I worked extremely hard on it, and that’s one of the things now that I pride myself on: being able to make those plays when the pocket’s breaking down and you need that extra few yards. I’m looking to have that back to 100 percent on Saturday and being able to extend plays when they need to be extended."
Clifford, a Cincinnati native, is playing his third game against Ohio State and second at Ohio Stadium. He left the 2019 game with an injury having completed 10 of 17 passes for 71 yards and rushing six times for no yards. Will Levis led Penn State to 17 unanswered points in the third quarter, but Ohio State held on for a 28-17 victory.
Last year, Clifford sought to rally Penn State from a 21-3 deficit, throwing for 281 yards and three touchdown passes (all to Jahan Dotson). Still, Ohio State prevailed 38-25.
For the past two years, Clifford prefaced those games by discussing them in personal terms. In 2019, when the Lions visited Ohio State, Clifford called the game "a little personal."
“Whenever you go back to where you’re from, to play the team from where you’re from, that’s always going to bring a little extra juice," he said then.
And before Penn State hosted Ohio State in 2020, Clifford said, "I'm not here to hang with Ohio State. I'm here to beat Ohio State. ... I wouldn't have come here if I didn't have that mentality."
Clifford, now a 23-year-old third-year starter, chose not to frame this week's game that way.
"If you treat it any differently, then you start worrying about the wrong things," Clifford said.
Clifford also is trying not to treat his future any differently. The quarterback has the option to return in 2022 for a sixth year, the result of the NCAA's decision to award 2020 athletes an additional season of eligibility because of COVID.
Clifford will be 24 next season. He also would have the opportunity to play with brother Liam, a freshman receiver for the Lions this season.
"I really haven’t thought it about it that much," Clifford said. "Obviously that’s something that I want to sit down with coaches, my family and talk about the pros and cons of everything. It’s not something that really needs to be addressed right now, because we have so much season left, and I’m just kind of focusing on taking advantage of every opportunity I have with this team.
"And then when the time presents itself, I’ll start to think about the future. But obviously, we’ve got a big opportunity, and I’m really appreciative of the opportunity I have in front of myself and this team, so it would be stupid to think about anything else but that."