WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) Sean Clifford avenged his biggest mistake Thursday night with a masterful, final drive.
It may have saved Penn State’s conference title hopes.
The sixth quarterback connected with Keyvone Lee on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 57 seconds left, leading the Nittany Lions to a 35-31 season-opening win at Purdue.
“It was pretty impressive,” coach James Franklin said when asked about the eight-play, 80-yard drive. ”We work on the 2-minute drill all the time and it worked out right there. You can learn a lot in games like this and I prefer to learn them by winning.”
It was a rollercoaster night as Clifford opened his sixth collegiate season.
He narrowly escaped a right leg injury in the first half and suffered cramps in the second half, forcing him to miss a series in the third quarter.
He appeared to have the Nittany Lions in control by connecting with Brenton Strange, who broke two tackles on his way to a 67-yard score with 2 seconds left in the first half. That gave the Nittany Lions a 21-10 lead.
He didn’t complete a pass after the return in the third quarter and then nearly put the game away when he overthrew Mitchell Tinsley and Chris Jefferson picked off the wrong pass and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown to give the Boilermakers a 31-28 lead. in the middle of the fourth quarter.
And then, he came through in the clutch to give Penn State its 10th straight win. Clifford finished 20 of 37 for 282 yards and four scores
It certainly wasn’t easy in front of a near-capacity crowd and in a game that featured seven lead changes.
“It was a valiant victory,” Franklin said. “We showed a lot of character. We have to make more plays on offense, obviously.”
Penn State’s defense also had to deal with a little bit of everything. King Doerue ran for two scores, Aidan O’Connell threw for 356 yards and another score and celebrated his 24th birthday by hooking childhood friend Charlie Jones 12 times for 153 yards and a 17-yard TD pass.
Still, they came up a first down — and perhaps a replay review that overturned a late fumble — short.
“Every loss hurts and we had this one right where we wanted it – a chance to seal the game, another first down to win the game,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. ”We apologize (to the fans) for not being able to do it.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions needed this win to stay in contention in the Big Ten East Division, and they got it – just barely. Clifford may have averted a showdown with the generals with his latest heroics. But the ground game averaged 3.2 yards per carry last season and generated just 3.1 Thursday.
Purdue: An opening night win would certainly make a big statement in the wide-open West. Instead, the Boilermakers crowd went home deflated. Now they will look to regain some of the momentum they started building with last year’s nine-win season.
Penn State linebacker Abdul Carter’s college debut was cut short by a targeting penalty early in the second quarter.
A replay review showed Carter making helmet-to-helmet contact with Boilermakers receiver Tyrone Tracy after Tracy dropped a pass near the line of scrimmage. Carter did not record a tackle.
SIGN HIM UP
Hours before kickoff, former Purdue star Drew Brees became the newest member of the Boilermaker Alliance’s executive board.
Although the organization is not affiliated with the university, it hopes to raise $6 million to provide NIL funding to 385 Purdue athletes — including the entire men’s football and basketball teams. The goal is to raise the profile of charities in Indiana and across the country.
Other former Purdue stars like Jim Everett, Robbie Hummel, Matt Light and Shaun Phillips are also on the board.
CONTINUING WITH JONES
Jones transferred from Iowa to Purdue so he could work with O’Connell, and on opening night, it seemed like a natural fit.
O’Connell threw 19 of his 58 passes in the sixth, and Jones set career single-game bests in receptions and yards.
“We had a feeling Charlie would be good when we brought him here,” Brohm said. ”He runs good routes, has good hands and has good chemistry with Aidan and it showed today.”
Penn State: Hosts Ohio on Sept. 10.
Purdue: Stays at home Sept. 10 against Indiana State.
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