Penn State Uses Big Second Half to Defeat Buffalo
The first half certainly wasn’t pretty. Inefficient offense and an inability to get off the field on defense plagued the Nittany Lions in the first half. The Buffalo Bulls had a game plan and they were executing it to perfection in trying to take control of the game. The Bulls were frustrating James Franklin’s group through the first 30 minutes, taking a 10-7 lead into halftime. But, the Nittany Lions made their second half adjustments and scored 38 points in the final two quarters to pull out a 45-13 victory. Penn State moves to 2-0 on the season while Buffalo falls to 1-1.
Penn State appeared to be off to another fast start when Cam Brown forced a fumble on Buffalo’s second possession of the game and recovered his own fumble. This set up Sean Clifford and the rest of the offense with favorable field position at the Buffalo 37. One play later, Clifford hit Jahan Dotson for a 28-yard touchdown pass to give Penn State a 7-0 lead. Unfortunately, this would be the only offense the Lions would muster in the first half.
After Penn State scored, the Bulls took control of this game. Their defense stymied the Penn State offense for the rest of the half, allowing just nine yards over the next two Nittany Lion drives. The Lions had another promising drive with two first downs, but a KJ Hamler drop on 3rd & 4 ended it.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo offense took control of the clock and did their part in keeping the Penn State offense on the sidelines. A 20 play drive ended with a 33-yard field goal from Alex McNulty to get the Bulls on the board, still trailing 7-3. Then, to close out their first half of dominance, redshirt freshman Matt Myers led a 96 yard drive, concluding it with a five-yard touchdown pass to Julien Bourassa. The Bulls led 10-7 heading into the locker room, while the home crowd booed the Nittany Lions as they head into their locker room.
Penn State Controls the Second Half
As disappointing as the first half was, the Nittany Lions just needed a little spark to get them going for the rest of the second half. They took the second half kick off and drove right down the field. But, a Ricky Slade fumble inside Buffalo territory ended that drive and brought the Buffalo offense that was in total control of the first half back out for the second half.
From there, the game changed. Myers dropped back to pass on a 3rd & 6 and threw a pass to the Buffalo sideline. But, Penn State cornerback John Reid jumped the route, intercepted the pass and went untouched into the end zone to give the Nittany Lions not only a 14-10 lead, but also a real momentum swing.
The Penn State defense forced a three and out on the ensuing Buffalo drive, giving their offense an opportunity to take control of the game, the same way Buffalo did in the first half.
Big Plays Spark The Lions Offense
Set up with favorable field position following the three and out and a personal foul penalty on Buffalo, Sean Clifford found one of his big targets right away. He found Pat Freiermuth in the middle of the Buffalo defense and the Penn State tight end did the rest, scoring from 23 yards out and extending the Penn State lead to 21-10.
The Bulls had a counter punch to the Nittany Lion offense, as McNulty added another field goal to cut the Penn State lead back down to eight. But, the Bulls could not stop the Penn State offense the rest of the night.
Sean Clifford showcased his speed on the next drive in a big way. He took a read option play and scampered down the Penn State sideline for 58 yards to set up the Nittany Lions inside Bulls five yard line. Freshman running back Noah Cain then reached the end zone on the next play, giving his QB a much needed breather and putting Penn State in full control of the game, 28-13.
On the next Penn State drive, Clifford decided to use arm to find his big tight end, Freiermuth, yet again. This time, they connected for a 28-yard pitch and catch to bring the Penn State lead up to 35-13.
As the fourth quarter got underway, Jake Pinegar tacked on a field goal to increase the Penn State lead to 25 points. Buffalo slowed down the Nittany Lions for most of the fourth quarter after the field goal. James Franklin decided to keep the starters in despite the big lead late in the game. This allowed Clifford to find Dotson again on a double move that fooled the Buffalo cornerback. Clifford hit Dotson in stride as the sophomore receiver caught his second touchdown of the game, sealing the game and giving the Nittany Lions a 45-13 victory.
It was a tale of two halves, but the second half showed what Penn State’s speed and depth can do to an opponent. As they head into their matchup with Pitt next week, I am sure James Franklin will emphasize starting faster from the opening kickoff. But, at 2-0 with another convincing win, the Nittany Lions are in good shape as they finish up their non-conference slate next week.