Sean Clifford leads No. 6 Penn State past Villanova 38-17

Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State coach James Franklin wasn’t that impressed with his team’s latest win.

Sure, the No. 6 Nittany Lions (4-0) might have put up plenty of points and a gaggle of yards in their 38-17 win over Villanova on Saturday, but they did so without the intensity Franklin believes has fueled their eight-game winning streak.

Maybe there was a hangover effect after Penn State outlasted Southeastern Conference foe No. 23 Auburn in a back-and-forth, marquee slugfest a week ago?

Franklin saw it as early as Wednesday when practice was flat and uninspired.

“I feel like our guys a little bit were enjoying people patting them on the back,” Franklin said. “We talked about it all week long. I don’t know if we had the same edge today that we’ve had for the previous three weeks.”

But they did have a big edge talentwise against their in-state FCS opponent and Sean Clifford took advantage. He passed for four touchdowns and a career-high 401 yards on 19-for-26 passing. Clifford found Parker Washington for two TDs and Jahan Dotson and KeAndre Lambert-Smith for one apiece. Tyler Warren rushed for a touchdown and Jordan Stout kicked a field goal for the Nittany Lions, who led 17-3 at the break.

It didn’t take long for Penn State to showcase its speed advantage.

Clifford spied Dotson speeding past single coverage by Villanova cornerback Christian Benford and dropped a 52-yard strike into Dotson’s hands for a 7-0 lead just three minutes in.

Early in the second, the Wildcats pressured Clifford and brought him down at midfield for their first of three sacks on the afternoon. But the fifth-year senior popped up and fired to Washington crossing over the middle on the next play. Washington sliced through the Villanova secondary for a 52-yard score that made it 14-3.

Stout added a 29-yard field goal before halftime, but Penn State missed an opportunity for an even bigger lead.

Cornerback Johnny Dixon dropped what could have been a Pick-6 midway through the first half, and the Nittany Lions’ final two possessions were spoiled by a holding penalty and a sack.

“Good enough to win the game,” Clifford said. “I felt like we left a lot out there.”

Clifford continued to hook up with his receivers for big plays in the second half. Lambert-Smith caught a quick pass and beat the Wildcats for an 82-yard score on the second play of the third quarter. Later in the third, Washington found a hole in coverage and Clifford found him for a 23-yard touchdown pass and 31-3 lead.

Warren added a 3-yard touchdown run off a direct snap in the fourth quarter.

Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith threw 57- and 17-yard touchdown passes to Rayjoun Pringle in the fourth.

“We got big-played to death,” Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said. “I think it was probably six big plays, obviously the opening play of the game on their possession and then a few other long plays. But I’m really proud of the way our defense played. I’m proud of the way our offense stuck in there and put a couple on the board at the end.”

RUSHING YARDS WANTED

Franklin said starting running back Noah Cain was “dinged-up” a bit last week and didn’t practice enough to get a heavy workload. Cain had just one carry for 2 yards. Penn State managed just 80 yards on 34 carries and has failed to eclipse 84 yards in three of four games this season.

SCARY INJURY

Villanova tight end Tyler Will suffered a concussion and was taken to a hospital after he made a tackle on the second-half kickoff. Will was motionless for about five minutes before he was loaded onto a backboard and carted off, slightly moving his hands. Villanova staff reported that Will was receiving treatment for a concussion but was alert and had full movement in his extremities.

THE TAKEAWAY

Villanova: The Wildcats should go into their bye week with their heads high. While their offense wasn’t able to hang with their more talented counterparts, the defense played tough and forced a Penn State offense fresh off its best game into multiple mistakes that kept the score respectable early.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions might have had a cleaner outing had they just taken what Villanova was giving them. Clifford had his first and second reads open often, but he seemed to be in go-for-broke mode much of the first half. That kind of play could cost Penn State against stiffer competition, especially if the running game doesn’t get going.

UP NEXT

Villanova: Visits James Madison on Oct. 9.

Penn State: Hosts Indiana on Saturday night.

No. 3 TCU loses 31-28 in OT to K-State in Big 12 title game

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Ty Zentner kicked a 31-yard field goal in overtime as 13th-ranked Kansas State beat No. 3 TCU 31-28 in the Big 12 championship game Saturday, leaving the Horned Frogs to wait another day to find out if they had already done enough to get into the four-team College Football Playoff.

The Wildcats set up the winning field goal after TCU (12-1) had the opening possession of overtime and Kendre Miller was stopped short on consecutive plays from inside the 1.

Deuce Vaughn ran for 130 yards and a touchdown and Will Howard threw two TDs for the Wildcats (10-3, No. 10 CFP), who six weeks earlier had jumped out to a 28-10 lead early in the second quarter before TCU scored the game’s last 28 points.

That was one of five games the Horned Frogs (12-1, No. 3 CFP) won when trailing after halftime. But they couldn’t do it again with the chance to guarantee being the first Big 12 team other than Oklahoma to make the playoff.

TCU, the first Big 12 team to complete a regular season undefeated since Texas in 2009, could still get into the playoff. While their case was helped when fourth-ranked Southern California (11-2) lost 47-24 to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night, the Frogs now have to wait until the final CFP rankings come out Sunday.

Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark said before the game that TCU, with first-year coach Sonny Dykes, already deserved to be in the playoff.

“You look at their strength of schedule. You think about how they’ve performed all year long,” Yormark said. “I think regardless, they should be in, for sure.”

No. 4 USC falls to Utah in Pac-12 Championship, damaging playoff hopes

Utah vs. USC
USA Today
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LAS VEGAS — No. 12 Utah pounded a limping, bloodied Caleb Williams and roared past No. 4 Southern California 47-24 on Friday night to win the Pac-12 Championship and put USC’s College Football Playoff hopes in doubt.

The loss by the Trojans (11-2) could open the way for Ohio State (11-1) to take their spot in the playoffs. USC is fourth in the CFP rankings, the Buckeyes are one step behind.

Ohio State had to be Utah’s biggest fan. The Buckeyes move up in playoff consideration, with 12-0 Michigan at No. 2 with the Big Ten championship game on Saturday, that would give the Big Ten conference two playoff teams for the first time. It also would extend the Pac-12′s playoff drought — Washington in 2017 is the last team from that conference to make the playoffs.

Utah (10-3) is heading to the Rose Bowl, but the Utes already were going there regardless of the outcome of the title game. They are responsible for USC’s only losses, having edged the Trojans 43-42 on Oct. 15 in Salt Lake City.

The Utes rolled up 533 yards of offense in the rematch, and Cam Rising passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

Williams threw for 363 yards and three TDs. He entered the game as the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, but wasn’t the same after getting injured in the first quarter.

The Trojans looked as if they were going to run away with the game, taking a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter behind some stellar play by Williams.

He appeared to hurt his left knee or leg in the first quarter on a 59-yard run in which he took a big hit at the end, and he suffered a bad cut on the pinky finger of his throwing hand. He spent most of the game limping, and wasn’t the same after a sterling first quarter in which the Trojans outgained Utah in total yards 194-70, and Williams had both touchdown passes.

After USC failed to pick up a fourth-and-8 from Utah’s 37-yard line, the Utes scored two touchdowns in the final 3:55 of the first half, and suddenly the game was tied at 17. Instead of a rout, the game was beginning to look like the shootout the Utes won in October.

The game took on that tone at times in the second half, but USC had no answer for how to slow down Utah, which outscored the Trojans 44-7 in overcoming that two-touchdown deficit.

ATTENDANCE RECORD

A announced sellout crowd of 61,195 made this the largest for a neutral-site Pac-12 Championship. It beat the previous record of 58,476 fans. who watched Southern California-Stanford in Santa Clara, California, in 2015.