STATE COLLEGE — Sean Clifford refused to use his health as an excuse for the way he played in Penn State’s stunning 20-18 loss to Illinois in nine overtimes Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Clifford’s status for Saturday was in question after he left the Nittany Lions’ 23-20 defeat at Iowa two weeks ago in the second quarter and did not return. Coach James Franklin and Clifford have not revealed what the injury is.
Clifford split practice time with backup quarterbacks Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux the last several days. He did not look close to 100% against the Illini, did not scramble and lacked mobility in the pocket.
“I obviously didn’t feel like I played my best football at all,” Clifford said. “I made a lot of mistakes. You can’t chalk things up to injuries or anything like that. When you’re on the field, you have to make the plays.”
Clifford completed 19-of-34 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown, a 42-yard strike to KeAndre Lambert-Smith in the first quarter. He was sacked four times and slid to avoid a tackle on another play.
Clifford claimed he was not limited, but Penn State coach James Franklin admitted he was. Franklin wouldn’t say exactly when he decided to start Clifford.
“We had confidence that it was going to happen, but we weren’t sure,” Franklin said. “He got better every single day. The feedback that we were getting from the trainers and the doctors and from Sean was that he’d be able to go today. Obviously, that’s a day-to-day thing.”
On Tuesday, Franklin said Roberson and Veilleux would share the repetitions at practice. That changed when Clifford was throwing passes at practice Wednesday in the session that was open to the media.
“I knew he was taking reps with the ones (first-team players),” Lambert-Smith said. “Coach felt like he was the quarterback who gave us the best chance to win today, so he played.”
It was apparent as the game went on that Clifford wasn’t mobile and wasn’t going to run. Illinois’ defense saw that and limited Penn State to 84 total yards after halftime.
“There were plays we tried to make,” Clifford said. “I have to watch tape and see what corrections we have to make. It’s tough to say right now. But obviously we didn’t play up to our standard, the Penn State standard.”
Illinois gashes Lions: Illinois rushed for a whopping 357 yards, the seventh-most allowed by Penn State in its history, and averaged 5.3 yards per carry.
Sophomore Chase Brown carried 33 times for 223 yards and one touchdown and became the first Lions opponent to top 200 yards since Indiana’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 203 yards in 2003.
Josh McCray, a 240-pound freshman, ran 24 times for 142 yards and joined Brown as the first pair of backs to top 100 yards against Penn State since Minnesota’s Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith in 2016.
Illinois often used seven offensive linemen and two tight ends on plays with the quarterback and one running back.
“They were in second-and-short and third-and-short situations for way too long,” Franklin said. “Their heavy sets gave us problems whether they just went with extra offensive linemen and created a long edge or they went unbalanced and created challenges for us.”
Penn State clearly missed nose tackle PJ Mustipher, who suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago at Iowa.
“PJ has played a lot of football for us here and is a captain for us,” Franklin said. “He’s been a tremendous player and a big part of our defense so not having him factored in, there’s no doubt about it.”
Quick whistle: Penn State had a defensive touchdown taken away in the first quarter when the Big Ten officiating crew ruled that Brown’s forward progress had been stopped before he fumbled.
On first down from the Illinois 11, defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo stripped the ball from Brown. It bounced into the end zone, where safety Jaquan Brisker recovered. Referee Reggie Smith signaled a touchdown before he and his crew huddled and overturned it.
A judgment call on whether a player’s forward progress had been stopped cannot be reviewed.
“It was a big play,” Brisker said. “It was a forced fumble and a touchdown. It’s a big call, and a super late call, because they ruled it a touchdown on the field.”
Source: Berkshire mont