Through 11-win seasons, Outback Bowl losses and struggling performances like the one he had against Northwestern on Saturday, Sean Clifford doesn’t care what you think of him.
“I get critics when we win. I can throw for 400 yards, and I’d still get critics, so it really doesn't matter,” Clifford said after Penn State’s 17-7 win over Northwestern. “No outside opinion will ever change the way I think about this team.”
Clifford heard the noise after throwing for 282 yards and four touchdowns at Purdue — including a spectacular game-winning drive with under two minutes in regulation — overshadowed by freshman quarterback Drew Allar’s brief excellence in third-quarter relief.
He will certainly hear the noise after completing just 10 of 20 pass attempts for 140 yards, one touchdown and an ugly first-quarter interception he’ll likely want to forget about.
As built up drives continually turned into punts and turnovers — five total — the fans that remained in the stands, showered on by rain for four quarters, let Clifford know their frustration with their own shower of boos.
“I don't think this was one of Sean's best games,” Franklin said. “Just like I am for the running backs, I'm not going to allow the weather to be an excuse.”
On and off rain — sometimes light showers, other times torrential downpours — was expected by Penn State’s coaching staff ahead of Saturday.
While Franklin said he won’t allow such an obstacle to be used as an excuse for off-brand performances, Clifford claimed the rain did make his job more difficult than usual.
“It comes down, and then it stops, and then the balls are getting heavy. It's all over the place,” Clifford said. “There's throws that I need to make. I'm not making excuses like that. But at the same time, it was tough out there. I'm not gonna lie.”
Now in his sixth season as a Nittany Lion, Clifford has been through many different experiences, less-than-ideal weather conditions being some of them.
In last year’s regular-season finale, Penn State played a snow game at Michigan State, a game in which Clifford completed 23 of 34 pass attempts for 313 yards and three touchdowns.
So what’s the difference between throwing a football in the rain and the snow?
“I’d much rather have snow,” Clifford said. “The rain just gets your hands so slick, where the snow if you just keep your towel on you, it doesn't stick.”
While the on-and-off downpours made it “tough to get into a flow,” Clifford said, there were some shining moments.
Clifford connected with tight end Brenton Strange to put the Nittany Lions on the board in the first quarter, Strange’s team-leading fourth receiving touchdown of the season.
The play call — a run-pass-option with a fake pitch to the running back — showed the best of what offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich can do.
“It was just a little bluff to get them off the sideline,” Clifford said. “It was one of the better plays for sure today. It was perfectly called, perfectly ran.”
That touchdown, however, would be Clifford’s only of the game.
What followed were 14 pass attempts over three quarters, some of which contained some of the worst passes of Clifford’s career, not including his first-quarter interception.
Clifford only threw one interception, but Franklin acknowledged “there could have been a couple others.”
“The second half was kind of inconsistent,” Clifford said. “I thought that the pick was controllable, and then there was a second one that I thought that they made a pretty good play on.”
For Clifford, bad games aren’t uncommon. What matters to him is how he can accept his performance and move on.
That includes silencing the voices — whether positive or negative — and just taking one game at a time.
“I feel like I'm pretty mentally tough,” Clifford said. “I'm not trying to toot my own horn, but I've been through a lot here. There's not much that really gets under my skin anymore”
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