Turnovers, once again, doom Clifford, Lions

Oct. 30—STATE COLLEGE — His head coach hardly gave him a ringing endorsement, and for Sean Clifford, the reason rang through as clear as his frustration.

In the latest of many big, season-defining, career-marking games against Ohio State, Clifford did plenty of things well. But the things he didn't ultimately proved to be the difference in No. 13 Penn State's 44-31 loss to the No. 2 Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium.

Clifford completed 32 of 47 passes for 371 yards and three touchdowns, leading Penn State from 10-0 down in the first quarter to a 21-16 lead with 9:26 to go and the brink of an upset that might have shaken up the Big Ten.

But he also threw three interceptions, including a fumble that led to a touchdown and an interception Ohio State star defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau returned 14 yards for a score. Both came in the final 9:26 and doomed any chance Penn State's offense had to make a final run at the win.

Ohio State scored 21 points off those four turnovers, a key component of its seventh-straight performance scoring 40 or more points.

"I thought he played gutsy and made some big-time plays," Franklin said of his sixth-year senior. "But he can't have the turnovers."

Now, the questions about his future as Penn State's starter promise to intensify.

With the Nittany Lions' distant Big Ten title hopes all-but-officially dashed by the Buckeyes' comeback, it's conceivable the coaching staff will consider turning over the reins of the offense to true freshman Drew Allar, a five-star prospect who is seen as the team's future at the position.

"The key stat is the wins and the losses," Clifford said. "We didn't take care of that. So, it's hard to assess how I played individually. All I know is we didn't take care of business."

He sat back. His eyes seemed to be welling with tears. He sighed.

"It's definitely tough," he concluded.

Going for it

Penn State took plenty of chances to stay close in the game with the potent Buckeyes, many of which paid off.

The Nittany Lions were 3 for 4 converting fourth downs — the lone miss coming when running back Nick Singleton was stuffed on a fourth-and-2 run in the third quarter, with Franklin eschewing a shot at a field goal that would have put his team ahead, 17-13, if made.

But Penn State also converted two fourth downs, one on a Clifford pass to tight end Tyler Warren on a fourth-and-inches inside the 10, and another on freshman running back Kaytron Allen's 1-yard run in the fourth that handed the Lions a 21-16 edge.

"We wanted to be aggressive on fourth down," Franklin said. "We knew we were going to have to be able to score some points against these guys and take some risks and take some chances. Obviously the three that we converted were big and it allowed us to score points and allowed us to score touchdowns."

Bright spot

Parker Washington had his second consecutive big game.

The Nittany Lions junior set career highs, catching 11 passes for 179 yards, and his 58-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown, on which he fought through a tackle attempt by safety Tanner McCalister and bounced off a shoulder strike from corner JK Johnson, helped Penn State recover from a 10-0 first-quarter deficit.

"It helps when you can move the ball down the field and get those big chunk plays," tight end Theo Johnson said. "(Washington has) been doing a really good job for us. He gives our offense a spark."

Nittany notes

Penn State and Ohio State have met 21 times when both teams are ranked in the polls. The Buckeyes won 15 of them. ... Clifford's fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Allen was the 78th of his career, setting a Penn State record. He passed Trace McSorley, who had 77. ... Wyoming Area standout Dominic DeLuca was one of Penn State's four game captains, the second time this season he had the honor.

Contact the writer:

dcollins@timesshamrock.com;

570-348-9125;

@DonnieCollinsTT;

@PennStateTT