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Penn State’s offensive player to watch: Quarterback Sean Clifford

The Cincinnati native said playing Ohio State is “a little personal.”

Indiana at Penn State Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s a little personal going back,” Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford said about returning home to Ohio to take on the Buckeyes. “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.”

I don’t know about you, but all I hear is: “I grew up an Ohio State fan and I kind of still am an Ohio State fan but they didn’t recruit me so I have to pretend like I’m not an Ohio State fan.”

Clifford attended St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio where he was a four-star recruit and rated the No. 1 prospect in Ohio, No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 4 player in the region by ESPN. As a senior he threw for 123-for-216 (56.2%), 1,426 yards and nine touchdowns, as well as 152 rushes for 571 yards and 12 scores. He finished his high school career ranked fourth in St. Xavier history with 4,004 career passing yards.

Clifford received offers from—among others— Akron, Cincinnati, Northwestern, Michigan State, and West Virginia— but ultimately committed to Penn State after attending a Nittany Lions camp. Ohio State extended an offer to Tate Martell instead of Clifford during the 2017 recruiting cycle, which, in hindsight, was probably the wrong choice.

He redshirted his freshman year in 2017, and only appeared in four games last year due to the fact he was next in line behind standout quarterback Trace McSorely. This year, in his first season as the Nittany Lion’s starting quarterback, Clifford has completed 168-of-282 (59.6%) passes for 2,450 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. He is No. 1 in the Big Ten with 2824 total yards, No. 3 in pass completions (168), No. 2 in passing yards (2,450) and No. 2—behind Justin Fields (31)— in passing touchdowns (22).

Coming off his first loss of the season at the hands of Minnesota—where he threw for 340 yards, and only one touchdown and a season-high three interceptions—Clifford bounced back last weekend against Indiana, throwing for 179 yards and rushing for 55, including a 38-yard touchdown run, just barely beating the Hoosiers 34-27.

Clifford will arguably be the best dual-threat quarterback—heck, the best overall quarterback — Ohio State has faced so far this season. He also said his team is “very hungry to beat Ohio State.” If the Buckeyes had a nickel...

Honorable Mention

While he left Saturday’s game against Indiana with an undisclosed injury, wide receiver K.J. Hamler is the Lion’s top receiver by a long shot. The sophomore has recorded 46 receptions for 791 yards and 8 touchdowns this season. However, most Buckeye fans probably remember Hamler from last year’s matchup, when he had 4 receptions for 138 yards including a 93-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

While Hamler’s status is still unknown, Penn State head coach James Franklin said he’s “pretty hopeful” his wide receiver will be good to go on Saturday. Whatever that means.

Behind Hamler stats-wise is tight end Pat Freiermuth who has 34 receptions for 424 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He is tied at No. 3 in the Big Ten with seven receiving touchdowns behind Ohio State WR Chris Olave who is tied for first with nine and Hamler who is second with eight.

If Hamler is healthy—and even if he’s not, honestly— Penn State’s offense will certainly be a wakeup call for Ohio State’s defense after playing Maryland and Rutgers back to back the last two weeks. I’m a firm believer that Penn State’s best player is their crowd at home games, so a matchup in the ‘Shoe, with a defense who hasn’t let an opponent gain 300 yards this season and the return of Chase Young? Yeah, I’m not worried.