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

Penn State beat Purdue 35-31 in Thursday’s thrilling season opener with seven lead changes, and Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford endured a career-long one night. mood. It looked like Penn State would take control early as Clifford found Brenton Strange’s 67-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left to give the Nittany Lions a 21 -10 lead. The lead did not last long after the start of the second half.

The Boilermakers dominated the third quarter, putting together two touchdowns and holding Penn State’s offense to 33 yards for a 24-21 lead. Penn State took the lead 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, Purdue was out with a three-pointer. Clifford’s pass went well past target Mitchell Tinsley’s head and into the eager embrace of Purdue’s Chris Jefferson. Jefferson brought the ball 72 yards to put Purdue back in the lead, and it looked like Penn State’s night was over. The Nittany Lions ran for just 14 yards on their next two possessions and were forced to wager, but the Boilermakers couldn’t put the final nail in the coffin, and it cost them.

Penn State had another catch with 2:22 left, the Nittany Lions had eight 80-yard touchdowns in 1:25 and Clifford had his fourth touchdown of the night. Array, this time KeyVone Lee, who scored from 12 yards.

1. Sean Clifford is a gamer

Clifford has been hit for nearly the entire 2021 season, and it feels like he’s been dealing with some kind of injury his entire career. He started the game with a brace on his left knee and looked to aggravate the injury when he was hit in the second quarter. Clifford stayed and finished the half, throwing a 67-yard touchdown to Strange, but he didn’t play to give Penn State an opener in the second half.

He came out of the locker room with the team, but was seen back in the locker room when Purdue opened with the ball. Five-star freshman Drew Allar fills in a series before Clifford returns. 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 injuries and adjustments.” Regardless, Clifford didn’t give it his all for most of the second half, which I think would cost Penn State.

I even wonder if it would be better for the Nittany Lions to go back to Aral as Clifford seems to lack mobility and the fact that a lot of his throws are high makes me wonder if he’s not on his left leg planting.

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

2. People will question Purdue’s tardiness

Purdue held a 31-28 lead over Chris Jefferson’s No. 6 pick with 8:29 left. The Boilermakers had two more possessions and chances, but they had 11 runs for 26 yards and, more importantly, 3:43 left. The Boilermakers called 13 passes to just one rush (two recalled for free throws) and the incompletion allowed Penn State to save a timeout.

Obviously, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm would be questioned, and I can see why. That said, I also understand Brom’s thought process. Purdue’s rushing average last season was the nation’s worst at 2.79 yards. Against Penn State, improved to 4.1 per carry (excluding sacks). Broom probably thought running the ball would consume more time, but would result in a 3-point out. He chose to be aggressive and rely on what his team does best: passing. It didn’t work, so he’ll have to live with the consequences, but I don’t hate the decision, even if I don’t fully agree.

3. Penn State wins, but serious problems remain

A win is a win, and Penn State isn’t going to give them back, but I wouldn’t get too excited. First, Penn State’s offensive line has underperformed for the 50th consecutive year. The Nittany Lions passed on the run, but averaged just 3.4 yards per carry (excluding sacks), and no one on the team averaged more than 3.9 yards per carry.

On the defensive end of the ball, the game ended with a sack and Penn State got two on the night, but they struggled to generate pressure all night. When they did, it was thanks to new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz bringing a blitz.

Arnold Ebikitie led this defense with 9.5 sacks last season, but there are questions about who will step up to fill his spot this season. A game, this question has not been answered. The good news is that Penn State still has an excellent second tier, but there’s only so much the second tier can do if the top four don’t generate pressure of their own.

4. Charlie Jones has paid for Purdue

Iowa fans were cursing all night as Iowa State’s move made a great debut for the Boilermakers. He had 12 catches for 153 yards and a touchdown. Last season, Jones passed just 21 times for 323 yards all season with the Hawks.

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