CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – In his first season of competition with Penn State, redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Clifford has made quite an impact in his limited playing time over the last two games.
Clifford played the entire fourth quarter in last Saturday's 63-10 win over Kent State and connected with Daniel George on a 95-yard touchdown pass, the longest play from scrimmage in Nittany Lions history. The previous record for longest completion happened in 1919.
The week before, Clifford's first pass as a college football player went for 34 yards and a touchdown to Brandon Polk late in the Lions' 51-6 win over Pittsburgh.
His totals for two games: 4-of-4, 151 yards, two touchdowns, an otherworldly 582.10 pass rating.
"I don't really think about or envision what a perfect start would be," Clifford said. "I'm just glad I got the opportunity to play, an opportunity to help the team. When my number was called, I relied on my guys. Everyone did their job.
"A lot of the times, you dream about moments and everything like that. It's tough to dream about the record and everything. That was cool and all. But I keep doing what I need to do, just follow my rules on the field, and coach (Ricky) Rahne has made some really good play calls for me."
Clifford had been Trace McSorley's primary backup for the first three games while Tommy Stevens recovers from an injury to his foot or ankle.
McSorley went over the 8,000-yard career passing mark with his third completion of the game Friday night against Illinois, though he played a bigger role in it than he probably would have liked.
McSorley hit tight end Jonathan Holland with a 28-yard pass on the play, but Holland fumbled after being popped by safety Stanley Green. Michael Marchese recovered and ran 11 yards before McSorley knifed between everyone to make a solid tackle.
McSorley ranks second on Penn State's all-time passing yardage list and is closing in on Christian Hackenberg's program record of 8,457 yards.
A total of 30 FBS teams are perfect in the red zone entering Week 4 of the season. Penn State has the most touchdowns – 15 – of any of them and their .938 percentage of touchdowns (15 of 16) is fourth.
"There's no doubt that we're scoring touchdowns at a high rate in the red zone," head coach James Franklin said. "And that usually puts your team in a really good position to be successful.
"Red zone, you've really got two different storylines. I think a lot of people focus on touchdown success in the red zone compared to field goals. If you're kicking field goals in the red zone, that's going to come back to get you beat at some point. So obviously we emphasize the touchdowns."
Franklin also said that just the red zone trips themselves are just as important as the TDs.
"You want to get into the red zone as much as you possibly can," he said. "That's probably even a stronger indicator of offensive success than anything. The more times you get to the red zone, good things are going to happen for your ballclub."