Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh had “all really positive” things to say Monday about Penn State’s first-year starting quarterback.
Sean Clifford, a redshirt sophomore, is leading the Big Ten with 260 passing yards per game, after all. He boasts the conference’s third-highest QB rating (171.0), behind Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan (195.1) and Ohio State’s Justin Fields (187.5). And he’s thrown 13 touchdowns to two interceptions.
So Harbaugh had only praise for the young signal-caller ahead of Saturday night’s White Out at Beaver Stadium.
“The play’s really good,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve been really impressed with his focus, too, just getting a chance to watch him on the TV a few times. I think he has a really intense focus that all the good ones have.”
Clifford hasn’t been perfect this season, but he’s been able to avoid a lot of mistakes. Against Iowa on Saturday, he completed just 50 percent of his passes for 117 yards — but he also didn’t turn the ball over once while adding 52 rushing yards on 16 carries.
On paper, Clifford is arguably the best quarterback the Wolverines defense has faced so far this season. Penn State’s passing offense is ranked No. 36 nationally in yards per game; the top passing offense Michigan has played so far has been Iowa’s No. 53 unit.
“He understands the game. He plays it,” Harbaugh added, referring to Clifford. “He’s highly competitive; you can see it in his runs, just his nature and how he plays the game. He’s very talented — got athletic ability, got arm talent. Also makes really good decisions.
“You can see the leadership and focus, all really positive.”
Here’s everything else Harbaugh had to say about Penn State during his weekly press conference Monday:
(On what’s essential in going into Penn State and having a chance to win)
“Playing good football. They’re an excellent football team. They’re fast, very athletic, very strong in all phases. Going to go in there playing our best football. My experience is — better team usually wins. So it’s a challenge we’re very excited about.”
(On his opportunity to chase some goals with a tremendous schedule ahead)
“This is the most important game. This game. And that one-game-at-a-time approach is the way we’re looking at it. We certainly have that opportunity this week; we’re going to prepare for it. There’s an excitement to it; there’s a bounce in the step of everyone on our team. We accomplished what we wanted to do this past week, which was to win the game and improve as a football team. And, now, onward. Have at it.”
(On former PSU assistant and current U-M coordinator Josh Gattis and what he liked about Gattis)
“I was actually at Western Michigan when Josh Gattis first caught my attention and then Vanderbilt and then Penn State, and Alabama. Just his track record of success in developing players and offensive innovation and kind of (being) the coach and teacher he is is what I’ve always been impressed with.
“Getting to work with him, all those things have been validated. He’s a tremendous coach at the highest level, in my opinion.”
(On whether Penn State married the pro style with the spread better than other spread attacks)
“Yes, it’s a spread system with a West Coast passing emphasis, no huddle and various running schemes, as well.”
(On how much better Michigan will have to play to have a successful second half to the season)
“This week, we’re going to have to play our best, the best that we’re capable of. Penn State is a heck of a good football team.”
(On what’s impressed him with Clifford)
“The play’s really good. I’ve been really impressed with his focus, too, just getting a chance to watch him on the TV a few times. I think he has a really intense focus that all the good ones have.
“He understands the game. He plays it. He’s highly competitive; you can see it in his runs, just his nature and how he plays the game. He’s very talented — got athletic ability, got arm talent. Also makes really good decisions. You can see the leadership and focus, all really positive.”