Sean Clifford

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No. 10 Penn State swarms No. 17 Iowa, 17-12, to remain undefeated

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A night game in Kinnick stadium is not supposed to be easy for visitors, but No. 10 Penn State (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) won their second consecutive night game in Iowa City in three years Saturday night. In a defensive battle, Sean Clifford and a strong display by the Penn State defense held off No. 17 Iowa (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) to remain undefeated. The game was put out of reach with a 17-6 score when Noah Cain took a pitch to the left side of the field for a touchdown. Penn State went on to win 17-12.

This was a tough defensive battle form the start. Clifford had a rough start to the game before he settled in during the second quarter. A.J. Epenesa of Iowa was in his face for much of the night, but the Nittany Lions protected the ball well and went 60 minutes without a turnover. Iowa, on the other hand, could not do the same in a game where possessions came at a premium.

Penn State appeared to take advantage of the first turnover of the game when Clifford connected with tight end Pat Freiermuth for a touchdown over the middle of the Hawkeyes defense late in the third quarter. But a video replay review ultimately overturned the call on the field and marked the ball shy of the end zone. Penn State would still manage to tack on a field goal, but the decision by the replay officials seemed to puzzle many watching the game.

According to David Jones of The Patriot News, the official word in the press box regarding the video replay ruling was it was a judgment call.

Penn State later picked off Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, which setup Cain to give Penn State some much-needed breathing room in the fourth quarter. After not throwing an interception in Iowa’s first four games of the season, Stanley has now thrown four in the last two games as Iowa’s offense continues to struggle against good defenses. They’ll have some time to figure that out before a road trip to Wisconsin in what should be a big game in the Big Ten West, although Iowa is already two games behind the Badgers in the loss column.

Stanley did give Iowa some late life though when he fumbled a snap and recovered for a first down and then tossed a deep ball to Brandon Smith for a remarkable touchdown catch (which was upheld by video review).

Penn State was able to run the clock out after recovering Iowa’s onside kick attempt. Cain picked up some big yardage in crucial situations to help milk the clock as he climbed over 100 rushing yards against a stingy Iowa defense. And in doing so, Penn State secured the first road win against a ranked opponent in the career of James Franklin. Franklin was 0-11 on the road against ranked teams in his career dating back to his time at Vanderbilt, and Penn State was 0-6 in those situations under their head coach.

Penn State will return home for what could be another tough defensive battle. The Nittany Lions host Michigan next weekend in a primetime showdown in front of a whiteout crowd. the game will carry a lot of weight in the Big Ten East as Michigan has already suffered one conference loss and Ohio State is leading the pace in the Big Ten. Iowa will stay home next week for their own division matchup with Purdue.

Penn State and Iowa locked in Big Ten defensive battle, Nittany Lions up 7-6 at half

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What was billed as a defensive battle has lived up to expectations. No. 10 Penn State holds a 7-3 lead on No. 17 Iowa at halftime in Kinnick Stadium in a game that just might be a race to 20 points. Or maybe 14. Or 10?

Iowa’s defense came out feisty and gave young starting Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford a rough welcome to a stripe-out atmosphere in Kinnick stadium. Clifford missed on his first five pass attempts before getting in a bit of a rhythm in the second quarter. Clifford completed four of six passes on a 15-play drive that covered 85 yards. The fourth and final pass was a pass to KJ Hamler, who zipped down the right sideline and leaped over a handful of players to cross the goal line. Video replay was used to uphold the call on the field since Hamler actually fell out of bounds. He had crossed the goal line before landing, which is why the call was upheld.

Iowa struck first in the first quarter by scoring the first points given up in the first quarter by Penn State this season. It looked as though Iowa might only get the lone field goal in the first half, but a huge third-down completion from Nate Stanley to Ihmir Smith-Marsette for 36 yards on 3rd-and-10 in the final minute of the half led to a second field goal despite having the ball at the Penn State four-yard line with time to spare.

It’s still a game up for grabs and the defenses are the story in Iowa City. But whoever scores the next touchdown might put this game out of reach.

No. 12 Penn State continues dominant streak over Maryland

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It wasn’t so long ago that it looked as though Maryland was going to be a team capable of pulling a significant upset within the Big Ten. But Friday night showed Maryland may not be quite ready for prime time after all. No. 12 Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) smashed Maryland (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten), 59-0, in the Big Ten opener for each team.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford got an early exit midway through the third quarter after a stellar performance. Clifford passed for 398 yards and three touchdowns while completing 26-of-31 pass attempts (he was also picked off once on a terrific effort by Maryland’s Nick Cross. Clifford’s passing total was the most in school history for a road game and ranked up near the top of the school’s all-time record book. Penn State also spread the ball around with 13 different players catching a pass in the rout. KJ Hamler, who scored on a 58-yard pass, led all players with 108 receiving yards. Clifford was also the team’s leading rusher with 54 yards and a touchdown.

Maryland had three turnovers (two interceptions by Josh Jackson and one fumble by Tayon Fleet-Davis) and managed just 124 yards of total offense while giving up 598 yards to the Nittany Lions. For a team that won its opener 79-0 and then scored 63 points against Syracuse, Maryland has come crashing back to earth at the hands of two teams from Pennsylvania. Mike Locksley may still have what it takes to turn things around at Maryland, but losing to two teams north of the Mason-Dixon line stings in recruiting for now.

Penn State has now defeated Maryland 59-0, 38-3, 66-3, and 38-14 in their last four meetings. Since 1991, Penn State has outscored Maryland 242-17 in their last four games played in College Park, Maryland dating back to 1991 (including two meetings since Maryland joined the Big Ten). Penn State leads the series 40-2-1 all-time and 5-1 since Maryland joined the Big Ten. Penn State has won the last five meetings.

Penn State managed to avoid a slow start that has hindered them in their last couple of games against Buffalo and Pitt, and the talent difference between the two rosters showed. Whether this makes Penn State a top contender in the Big Ten in the same boat with Ohio State remains to be determined, but this was easily the best all-around performance by the Nittany Lions in the first month of the season.

Penn State will return home next week to face Purdue. Maryland will look for a rebound win next week when they head to New Jersey to face Rutgers.

No. 12 Penn State shredding shell-shocked Maryland, 38-0 at halftime

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If Maryland was ready to make a statement tonight against No. 12 Penn State, this isn’t the statement they wanted to make. The Nittany Lions have been in full control of the game from the start and lead Maryland 38-0 at halftime in College Park.

Penn State’s defense has been dominant by holding the home team to fewer than 100 yards and forcing a pair of turnovers. Penn State has intercepted Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson twice, including one near the endzone on Maryland’s most promising offensive series of the first half. The defense came up with a big play on the game’s opening possession when Jan Johnson intercepted Jackson on the fifth play of the game. The return took the ball to the Maryland 44-yard line and a pair of penalties on Maryland moved the ball all the way to the nine-yard line. Sean Clifford kept the ball himself and ran up the middle for a touchdown on the first play after the turnover, and it was off to the races for Penn State.

Penn State scored touchdowns on their first four possessions of the game, and five of their six first-half possessions. Clifford completed passes to KJ Hamler for 58 yards and Journey Brown for 37 yards and touchdowns where the receiver racked up yards after the catch. Ricky Slade and Nick Bowers have also scored for Penn State.

The first half also saw a player from each team ejected for targeting. Penn State’s Micah Parsons was tossed in the first quarter for a hit on Jackson. Maryland’s Deon Jones was ejected in the second quarter for a hit on Penn State receiver Justin Shorter. Both players will be eligible to return to their teams in their next game.

Maryland has also had some injury issues. Offensive lineman Marcus Minor was helped off the field to the locker room, and Lorenzo Harrison had to go into the medical tent in the first half.

Because the rules require it, there will be 30 more minutes of football played in College Park tonight.

No. 13 Penn State sidesteps Pitt in 100th (and temporarily final) meeting

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A week of verbal jabbing and pettiness culminated in the 100th meeting in the rivalry between No. 13 Penn State (3-0) and Pitt (1-2) on Saturday afternoon. After a delayed start to the game due to weather conditions in the area, the last regular-season meeting between the two programs on the schedule certainly felt like an intense game, as Penn State held off the Panthers 17-10 to move to 3-0.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was under pressure all day against a feisty Pitt defensive line, and at times he certainly looked like a young quarterback who was feeling the pressure. He ended the game completed less than half of his passes (14-of-30) but did throw for 222 yards without an interception (one was waved off due to a Pitt penalty). Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett was much more effective with shorter passes and lobs that were somehow caught by his receivers for big gains, as he passed for 372 yards. But like Clifford, Pickett was unable to get his team in the endzone through the air. The only touchdown allowed by the Penn State defense came near the end of the first half with Vincent Davis briefly giving the Panthers a 10-7 lead.

Penn State managed to tie the game just before halftime on a school-record 57-yard field goal by Jordan Stoudt, avoiding a second straight week trailing their opponent at halftime at home. Penn State’s defense wasn’t perfect in the second half, but the Nittany Lions shutout the Panthers after the break. A 13-yard run up the middle of the Pitt defense gave Penn State the go-ahead and eventual game-winning score in the third quarter. From there, it was all about the defense.

Both teams had their share of struggles on third downs, but both teams thrived on fourth down. Pitt was a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth down, which made a decision by Pat Narduzzi to kick a field goal from the Penn State one-yard line all the more puzzling in the fourth quarter. With 4:54 to play and trailing by seven, Narduzzi sent kicker Alex Kessman out for a 19-yard try that bounced off the goal post.

There are no meetings between the two schools currently scheduled for the future, so, for now, the 100th meeting will give Penn State the in-state bragging rights. Pitt won the first meeting in this four-year revival, but Penn State won the last three meetings, including two in decisive fashion. For now, Penn State will get a bye week to prepare for their Big Ten opener in two weeks at Maryland. Maryland will be looking to bounce back after being upset in southeastern Pennsylvania just prior to Penn State finishing off Pittsburgh. Maryland was upset at Temple as their high-powered offense was nowhere to be seen.

Pitt will return to action next week with another good quality opponent. The Panthers host UCF a week after the Knights are playing Stanford.