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Penn State's Sean Clifford Has 'Taken Another Step'

The veteran quarterback is playing 'more even-keeled,' coach James Franklin says.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford wanted a few throws back after last week's win over Central Michigan. Which certainly wasn't new for the fourth-year starter.

What has changed this season, Penn State coach James Franklin said, is Clifford's response to those plays. Franklin has seen a "much more even-keeled" quarterback through the team's 4-0 start, one who seems better equipped to put mistakes behind him quicker.

"I think he has taken another step in those two areas," Franklin said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "He's reduced the number of plays that, after the game, he would like to have back and we would like to have back. And [he's] just being a little bit more level.

"I would also make the argument that maybe those two things go hand in hand. That when maybe has a play that he’d like to get back, he’s able to get over it because he’s been more even-keeled."

Clifford leads No. 11 Penn State back into the Big Ten schedule Saturday, when the Lions host Northwestern. Clifford has guided Penn State to a 4-0 start for the third time in his four starting seasons, though this one might be a little different.

As Franklin noted, Clifford seems to be controlling his pre-game adrenaline better than before and also is flushing errors from his system more quickly. His touchdown/interception rate through four games (8/1) is similar to last season (8/2). However, Clifford followed that lone interception with a game-winning drive against Purdue.

And though his four-game completion rate is lower this year (64.1 percent vs. 72.2 last season), Clifford has compiled some situational stats that underscore Franklin's perspective.

Two notables: Clifford's first-quarter completion rate is 79.2 percent; it was 63.9 through the entire 2021 season. And he has been exceptional in the red zone: 12-for-13 (92.3 percent) with six touchdowns. Clifford was 55.4 percent in the red zone with seven TDs and an interception in 2021.

"I still think he’s having a ton of fun and competing and being a leader and all the things that he’s really done for a while," Franklin said. "But he’s just more even-keeled. He’s not getting too high when things are good, he’s not getting too low when we prefer to have a play back. That I see as much as anything."

Clifford himself said he wants to eliminate the inconsistencies. For instance, he began the Central Michigan game 8 for 8 but finished 22 of 34. He ranks seventh in the Big Ten in completion percentage among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.

He's also fourth in passer rating (148.86) among Big Ten quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. By comparison, Ohio State's C.J. Stroud has a passer rating of 207.54.

Clifford definitely wanted to replay a few snaps vs. Central Michigan, particularly vs. the team's cover-0 defense (against which he went 1-for-10). Ultimately, though, Clifford likes Penn State's position.

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"I think that we’re right where we need to be," he said after the game. "We’ve had a lot of success. We’ve seen now what hampers that and, at the same time, we’re in the position with the right guys to make the push to make those corrections.

"... That's why I'm really happy about this offense right now. Everybody takes it as constructive [criticism] to move forward. This team is in a good place: not satisfied with what we did [Saturday] but hungry for the future."

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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