Odds are if you’re anything like me and watch the Penn State Football games from start to finish you were less than impressed with last weeks game versus Buffalo – especially in the first half. The Nittany Lions were down 10-3 going into halftime and a restless Beaver Stadium crowd booed the team off the field.
The truth is, they deserved the Booing. Outside of a fumble recovery followed by a quick touchdown, Penn State had been outmatched on offense and defense by a Buffalo team that lost all of their all conference players from a year before. I am not here to tell you not to boo, in fact I encourage it. You boo bad performances; you cheer for good ones. This is how sports has always worked for its entire history.
What I am telling you is that there is no need to panic just because Penn State didn’t look like Penn State for 30 minutes against a MAC opponent. There is a lot of good that came out of this game that matches up with the bad; and luckily fans can take away a lot more from their matchup with Buffalo than with Idaho. Let’s talk about some of the things we saw and what they could mean.
- The time of possession favored the Bulls extremely. Buffalo had the ball for over 42 minutes of this game leaving Penn State with 17. That is more than double the time the Nittany Lions were on offense. A pretty staggering statistic, right? Frankly, it is more misleading than anything. The style of offense that each team brought Saturday night was pretty much always going to yield this result. Buffalo has two running backs they truly believe in and a QB who was starting his second ever game. They were always going to try to work the clock and have long meticulous drives down the field. Penn State was much more focused on the big play and tried to gain their yardage in chunks. They were relatively successful in this through the air (and one Sean Clifford run) because Buffalo for the most part was selling out for the rush. #14 took advantage and threw for four Touchdowns this game.
- Third downs were a problem again. Only converting on two of nine chances, Penn State failed to extend drives when getting to third down. Comparatively, Buffalo converted on 10 of 23 attempts – nothing to brag about, but much better than the Nittany Lions. This was a bigger concern for me than the time of possession. If Penn State wants to have success against better opponents, they will need to find ways to convert on third down as well as prevent their opponents from doing the same.
- Where the hell were all the running backs? The big four running backs total had only 10 carries for 39 yards this game, making me feel like a big dumb idiot for writing a novel about them last week. Truth is, this isn’t a real concern of mine. Buffalo looked like they were selling out to defend against the run this game, daring Clifford to be the one to beat them in his second ever start… which he did. I imagine once #14 gets a little more comfortable with his reads and Penn State faces more balanced defenses, the running backs will get many, many more opportunities to rush.
- Ricky, my man. Ricky Slade fumbled right near the red zone the first possession back in the second half, stalling a really promising looking drive. His stat line for the day was 3 carries for 8 yards and a fumble … yikes. This is a really talented RB room and if you put the ball on the ground, you’re probably done for the day. I know it has only been two games, but Journey Brown is looking more and more like RB1. Watch that transfer portal.
- Only one sack? Penn State was only able to drop the QB behind the line one time during this game, prompting me to tweet “Penn State DLine looking very quiet??”. From my perspective (the corner of the third floor of NYC PSU bar, Tonic East), it looked like Buffalo was able to hold off the D Line completely and run 4-8 yards whenever they wanted to. The truth is, they were dropped for 10 tackles for loss and only averaged about 3ish yards per carry as a team. On top of all of that, QB Myers released the football extremely quickly during pass plays. Not as dramatic as it seemed on TV. I think it was more frustrating to see Buffalo sustain long drives than it was actually damning for the defense.
So overall, not so bad. It wasn’t the rout that fans and myself hoped we would see but it was enough to get a good look at some things to improve upon and things to look forward to.
The Good: Sean Clifford looks awesome. The WRs and Pat Freiermuth are dangerous. Defense is completely solid all around.
The Bad: Third downs on both sides of the ball. Running Back mix into the offense. Accepting a penalty on what would have resulted in a fourth down, just to let Buffalo get another chance to (successfully) convert on third down.
The Ugly: 2-3 drops by KJ Hamler. Ricky Slade fumble. Jake Zembiec mustache.
No need to panic just yet. I am confident that Penn State will learn from their mistakes and iron out the necessary wrinkles they will need when facing tougher opponents. After all, under Franklin, they always have. It is a very good thing to earn a comfortable win all while learning a little more about your weaknesses this early. Buffalo proved to be a worthy opponent and we thank them for their time. On to Pitt. Let’s go State.