Penn State vs. Purdue score, takeaways: Sean Clifford throws game-winning TD after back-to-back pick six – CBS Sports

Penn State vs. Purdue score, takeaways: Sean Clifford throws game-winning TD after back-to-back pick six - CBS Sports

Penn State beat Purdue 35-31 in a thrilling season opener on Thursday that saw seven lead changes and Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford experience a career-high amount of emotion in one night. It looked as if Penn State would take control of the game early when Clifford found Brenton Strange for a 67-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left before halftime to give the Nittany Lions a 21-10 lead. It was a lead that didn’t last long after the second half started.

The Boilermakers dominated the third quarter, stringing together two touchdown drives and holding Penn State to 33 yards of offense to storm out to a 24-21 lead. Penn State took the lead back early in the fourth quarter when Clifford found KeAndre Lambert-Smith for a 29-yard touchdown pass, but the game was far from over.

Two minutes later, after Purdue went three-and-out. Clifford sailed a pass well over the head of target Mitchell Tinsley and into the eager arms of Purdue’s Chris Jefferson. Jefferson took the ball 72 yards to the house to give Purdue the lead back, and it looked like Penn State’s night was done. The Nittany Lions managed just 14 yards on their next two possessions and were forced to punt, but the Boilermakers couldn’t put the final nail in the coffin that cost them.

Penn State got the ball one more time with 2:22 left to play, and the Nittany Lions put together an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in 1:25, with Clifford throwing his fourth touchdown of the night, this time to KeyVone Lee, who scored from 12 yards out.

1. Sean Clifford is a gamer

Clifford was knocked out for almost the entire 2021 season, and it appears he’s been dealing with some sort of injury his entire career. He started the game with a brace on his left knee and looked to aggravate the injury when he took a hit in the second quarter. Clifford stayed in and finished the half, throwing the 67-yard touchdown to Strange, but he didn’t take the field for Penn State’s opening possession of the second half.

He came out of the locker room with the team but was seen getting back into it when Purdue opened the half with the ball. Five-star freshman Drew Allar filled in a series before Clifford returned. After the game, James Franklin said Clifford was dealing with cramps. When interviewed by Fox’s Jenny Taft, Clifford said he was dealing with “minor cuts and bruises.” Whatever the case, Clifford didn’t look at full strength for most of the second half, and I thought it would cost Penn State the game.

I even wondered if the Nittany Lions would be better off going back to Allar, since Clifford seemed to lack mobility, and the fact that so many of his throws were high made me wonder if he was planting on that left leg.

In the end it didn’t matter. As he had done many times before, Clifford gutted it and helped lead his team to a comeback victory. His four touchdown passes tied a career high.

2. People will question Purdue’s late play calling

Purdue took a 31-28 lead on Chris Jefferson’s pick six with 8:29 left in the game. The Boilermakers had two more possessions and chances to burn the clock, but ran 11 plays for 26 yards and, more importantly, just 3:43 off the clock. The Boilermakers called 13 passing plays to just one rush (two were called back on penalties), and the incompletions allowed Penn State to keep timeouts.

Obviously, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm will be second-guessing, and I understand why. That said, I also understand Brohm’s thought process. Purdue’s rushing attack averaged a nation-worst 2.79 yards per carry last season. Against Penn State it improved to 4.1 per carry (not including sacks). Brohm probably believed that running the ball would burn more clock but lead to three-and-outs. He chose to be aggressive and lean on what his team does best: throw the ball. It didn’t work, so he’ll have to live with the consequences, but I didn’t hate the decision, even if I didn’t completely agree.

3. Penn State got the win, but there are still major concerns

Wins are wins, and Penn State won’t give them back, but I wouldn’t get too excited. First of all, Penn State’s offensive line hasn’t played well for what feels like the 50th straight year. The Nittany Lions spread the ball around in the running game but averaged just 3.4 yards per carry (not including sacks), and no one on the team averaged more than 3.9 yards per carry.

On the defensive side of the ball, the game ended on a sack, and Penn State picked up two on the evening, but they struggled to get pressure all night. When they did, it resulted from new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz bringing in a blitz.

Arnold Ebikitie had 9.5 sacks to lead this defense last season, but there were questions about who would step in to fill his shoes this season. One game in, that question has not been answered. The good news is Penn State still has a great secondary, but secondaries can only do so much if the front four don’t generate pressure on their own.

4. Charlie Jones has already paid for Purdue

Iowa fans could be heard cursing all night as the Iowa transfer had a stunning debut for the Boilermakers. He finished with 12 catches for 153 yards and a touchdown. Jones caught just 21 passes for 323 yards all of last season with the Hawkeyes.

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