Penn State’s Prey 2019: Buffalo Bulls
(Follow me on Twitter @Cory_Lestochi)
Following a home opener with the Idaho Vandals, Penn State will turn their attention to the Buffalo Bulls (10-4, 7-1 MAC) in week two. Don’t let the fact that this opponent hails from the MAC conference fool you, the Buffalo Bulls, have drastically improved under head coach Lance Leipold.
The former division three head coach, who went 109-6 at Wisconsin-Whitewater, is now in his fifth year as the head coach of the Bulls. Buffalo has improved their win total by four wins in each of the past two seasons. More impressively, the majority of the coaching staff has stayed put with no Power Five schools successfully poaching Leipold despite his recent success. The ten wins earned in the 2018 season is the most in program history.
Leipold and his Bulls will return to Beaver Stadium for a 7:30 PM kick on the second week of the season. Beaver Stadium just happens to be the place where Leipold coached his first FBS road game in 2015 when the Nittany Lions beat the Bulls 27-14 and a freshman phenom, Saquon Barkley’s hurdle over a defender made highlight reels across the country.
But this Bulls team will look grossly different than a year ago. Buffalo only returns 9 starters and has 23 true freshman or junior-college transfers that are new to the program. Therefore, the squad will have a lot of growing up to do if it wants to keep up in the MAC this season.
Defense (25.9 PPG, Returning Starters: 3)
Only returning three starters on the defensive side of the football does not look promising for any team. The Bulls lost three starting defensive linemen but do have experienced backups to fill their roles with Chibueze Onwuka, Eddie Wilson, and DeShondrick Foxworth (combined 45 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery) at the defensive tackle position and Malcom Koonce, Taylor Riggins, and Ledarius Mack (combined 32 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble) at the defensive end spot.
At linebacker, returning from a sensation freshman campaign, James Patterson (77 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 forced fumbles) could be used in any of the linebacker positions. He will have an even larger role to play this year with the departure of LB Khalil Hodge (all-MAC first-team, 144 tackles). Matt Otwinowski (13 solo tackles) appears to be the next man up at the inside linebacker position despite little experience.
Things don’t get better for the Bulls when you reach the secondary–they lose three more starters. Safety Tyrone Hill (46 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, and four pass breakups) must take a larger role in only his second season. There is no simple way of replacing Cameron Lewis (all-MAC first-team, 32 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions) and it wouldn’t be surprising if Penn State takes full advantage of this inexperienced secondary that will be left out to dry with minimal pass rush.
Offense (34.6 PPG, Returning Starters: 5)
Anytime you lose the conference player of the year on offense, you are going to take a step back. That is exactly what is going to happen when Buffalo tries to replace QB Tyree Jackson (3,131 yards and 28 TDs). Although coach Leipold has said there is a three-man race between Kyle Vantrease, Dominic Johnson, and Matt Myers only Vantrease (375 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) and Johnson (4 yards, 1 INT) have in-game experience. My money is on Vantrease being named the starter due to his versatility, but Johnson is the biggest quarterback among the group.
Whoever is under center will also have to find a new leading receiver. Anthony Johnson (two-time All MAC, 57 catches, 1011 yards, 11 TDs) is now with the Tampa Buccaneers. But he isn’t all that is departing. The Bulls have lost their top six receivers ( combined 2,861 yards and 28 TDs). The returning leading receivers are a backup tight end and running back. Look for Daniel Lee (57 catches, 846 yards, 6 TDs combined in two seasons) from Cisco College to step in and play a major role.
The offensive line does return four starters and will only have to replace the center position. Look for left guard Paul Nosworthy to play a pivotal role in anchoring the Buffalo offense.
Jarrett Patterson, and brother of Buffalo’s James Patterson, will be the star at running back. Patterson (1,013 yards and 14 TDs) will look to continue the success he had in his redshirt freshman season. Hopefully the presence of an experienced offensive line can expand Buffalo’s running game and take the pressure off the aerial attack.
Buffalo is coming off what could be considered its best season in program history. Coach Leipold is the real deal and the last time Buffalo came to State College, they brought intensity (and a lot of rain). Unfortunately, the Bulls simply have too much to replace on both sides of the football and I wouldn’t be surprised if this one is over before halftime. I don’t see how Buffalo will be able to stop Penn State’s offense through either the air or the run and Buffalo’s offense will not be properly armed for any sort of shootout.
Too Early Prediction
Buffalo Bulls: 6
Penn State Nittany Lions: 42