COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Nittany Lions surge on offense and defense

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (center) passes against Maryland linebacker Isaiah Davis during the first half on Friday. On Monday, the Big Ten conference named Clifford its co-offensive Player of the Week for his efforts in the No. 12 Nittany Lions’ 59-0 shutout of the Terrapins.

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford’s 287 yards passing in the first half against Maryland not only set a school record, but it also landed the first-year starter conference-wide recognition.

Monday morning, the Big Ten conference named Clifford its co-offensive Player of the Week for his efforts in No. 12 Penn State’s 59-0 shutout of Maryland on Friday.

“Offensively, I thought Sean was on fire,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said after the win. “(He) really handled being on the road for the first time and a Big Ten environment. Thought the environment there to start the game was challenging, as well, and I thought we handled it really well.”

Clifford finished 26 of 31 passing for a career-high 398 yards and three touchdowns against one interception. He added another 54 yards rushing and one touchdown. On the season, the redshirt sophomore is 70-for-106 passing with 1,179 yards and nine touchdowns and one interception.

Clifford began Friday’s contest by throwing nine consecutive completions — including two touchdowns — for 166 yards. He tallied an 8-yard scoring run on Penn State’s first offensive play from scrimmage.

“The big thing — and we said this going into the game — is that we needed to affect the quarterback,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “We’re a pressure defense and for whatever reason, we didn’t necessarily affect him. He made some quick decisions, got the ball to (K.J. Hamler), who’s a big-time player and we knew that he had the capability. Again, when you let a guy that you know is a game plan wrecker affect your game plan, that’s why I said we were out-coached.”

Clifford’s 1,179 yards passing rank second in the Big Ten behind Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke (1,325), and his 185.6 quarterback rating is only topped by Ohio State’s Justin Fields (194.4) and Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan (202.1).

Morgan is the other recipient of this week’s Big Ten honor. Morgan was 21 of 22 passing for 396 yards and four touchdowns in Minnesota’s 38-31 win against Purdue on Saturday.

Spreading the love

Thirteen Penn State receivers tallied 29 catches and 421 yards against Maryland. Clifford in the first half alone connected on passes to 11 receivers.

Redshirt sophomore K.J. Hamler led the way with 108 yards receiving and one touchdown on six catches. Hamler effectively quelled the home crowd with a highlight-worthy 58-yard catch and run in the first quarter that ended with him racing into the west end zone, where the Terrapins house their student section.

“We watched a lot more film together, as a group and with the quarterbacks, as well, just to read their coverages and know what options we have, and what routes we have just to run the coverages,” Hamler said.

Senior tight end Nick Bowers accumulated 70 yards receiving and one touchdown on two catches. He put his stamp on the contest in the third quarter with a 55-yard catch and run that ended with him finally being pulled down at Maryland’s 8-yard line.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Cam Sullivan-Brown pulled in five catches for 35 yards, and five additional Penn State players finished with multi-catch efforts.

Dynamic duo

After Penn State sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons’ first-quarter disqualification following a targeting penalty, the Nittany Lions tabbed some young depth to fill the void.

Linebackers Jessie Luketa (sophomore) and Ellis Brooks (redshirt sophomore) filled in admirably. Luketa, a Mercyhurst Prep graduate, posted a career-high five tackles, while Brooks’ six tackles tied a career-best. Brooks set personal-bests for sacks (2.5) and tackles for loss (2.5).

Collectively, Penn State’s defense held Maryland to a season-low 128 yards of offense and 10 first downs.

“(I) thought it was probably one of the more complete games that we have played in our six years really kind of in all three phases,” Franklin said. “We played at a high level. Defensively, that team has been putting up a bunch of points against a bunch of different people.”

Primetime tilt

Penn State’s athletic department released a statement on Monday afternoon announcing the Oct. 12 Penn State-Iowa contest will kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Kinnick Stadium. The game will be televised by either ABC, Fox Sports 1 or the Big Ten Network.

The primetime tilt will be Penn State’s third of the season, as the Nittany Lions have already played Buffalo and Maryland under the lights.

Monday’s primetime announcement comes as no surprise, as both Penn State and No. 14 Iowa are barreling toward possibly meeting as unbeatens.

The Hawkeyes defeated Middle Tennessee 48-3 on Saturday to improve to 4-0 this season. They travel to Ann Arbor this week for a Top 25 clash with Michigan.

Penn State’s last visit to Iowa, which also had a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, was determined in walk-off fashion when quarterback Trace McSorley found wide receiver Juwan Johnson for a 7-yard touchdown as time expired in the fourth quarter.

The Nittany Lions hold a 16-12 series advantage over the Hawkeyes and have won five straight meetings.

Elton Hayes covers Penn State for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at ehayes@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.

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