Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford will present challenge for Ohio State

Henry Palattella The Columbus Dispatch
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, who has thrown for 2,450 yards and 22 touchdowns this season, says he is looking forward to the challenge Ohio State’s top-ranked defense presents. [Barry Reeger/The Associated Press]

Ohio State hasn’t faced a quarterback like Penn State’s Sean Clifford all season.

Through 10 games, Clifford has thrown for 2,450 yards and 22 touchdowns to go along with nearly 400 yards and five touchdowns rushing. For perspective, Maryland’s Josh Jackson and Rutgers’ Johnny Langan — the last two quarterbacks the Buckeyes have faced — have combined for 1,719 yards passing.

But the flip side of that is that Clifford hasn’t faced a defense like Ohio State’s.

Not only do the Buckeyes lead the nation in total defense (216.4 yards per game), they’re first in scoring defense at 9.8 points per game. For most of the season, the Buckeyes defense has feasted on quarterbacks.

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Clifford, a 6-foot-2 Cincinnati native, knows what’s at stake when No. 9 Penn State travels to Ohio Stadium on Saturday.

“They’re a talented group, they pretty much have talent at every position,” Clifford said of Ohio State’s defense. “I would just say overall they’re really well-coached as well. They play hard and play really well. I compare them to an Iowa-type defense to doing their assignments and making plays. I’m excited to face them.”

A win over No. 2 Ohio State would not only shoot Penn State back into the College Football Playoff conversation, it would give the Nittany Lions the tiebreaker in the Big Ten East.

But Clifford could be without one of his top weapons. KJ Hamler, who leads Penn State with 791 yards receiving, left a game Saturday against Indiana during the second quarter after a collision on kickoff coverage. If Hamler can’t go against Ohio State, tight end Pat Freiermuth (424 yards receiving) and receiver Jahan Dotson (412) will work to fill the void.

“Like I said last week after the game, we're hopeful,” coach James Franklin said of Hamler. “Obviously, we won't know (until the game). There's medical policies and procedures that we go through. We'll wait and see, but we were hopeful after the game. I still remain hopeful.”

Three years ago, Penn State upset Ohio State despite then-sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley finishing 8-of-23 passing for 154 yards. But the Nittany Lions will want more out of Clifford.

“It all comes down to execution,” Clifford said. “They’re an extremely talented team, and they execute at a very high level. That just means we need to do the same at an even higher level.”

The last time Clifford and the Nittany Lions played a top-10 defense was two weeks ago against Minnesota. Despite Clifford throwing for 340 yards, the Nittany Lions lost 31-26, with Clifford throwing a game-ending interception in the end zone.

Last week against Indiana, he went 11 of 23 for 179 yards and a touchdown to go along with 55 yards rushing in a 34-27 victory. After the win, Clifford promised this would be the best week of preparation his team would have all year.

On Saturday, we will see if that preparation paid off.


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