Photo by Darian Somers
The Nittany Lions limped out of the gate against the Golden Gophers and never recovered.
The Nittany Lions limped out of the gate against the Golden Gophers and never recovered.
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.
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.
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.
Last year, Penn State fans had to sweat out the first victory of the season, an overtime victory over underdog Appalachian State. This year, the Nittany Lions gave their fans nothing to sweat over, coasting to a 79-7 victory over the Idaho Vandals. The victory pushes Penn State to 1-0, while Idaho falls to 0-1.
A complete team effort, Penn State dominated in all aspects of the game from start to finish. The Nittany Lions won the battle in just about every key stat including:
The Penn State offense looked nervous early as they settled for two field goals early in the first quarter. Virginia Tech transfer Jordan Stout made the second of those two field goals. His boot from 53 yards made the score 6-0. Stout also raised eye brows throughout the game for his prowess in forcing touchbacks from the Vandal special teams unit.
Penn State scored their first touchdown of the season when Journey Brown found the end zone on a 23-yard run. From there, the offense took off. Running back Ricky Slade then reached the end zone for his first touchdown of the season to make it 20-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter became the Sean Clifford to KJ Hamler show. Clifford found Hamler wide open in the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 27-0. Then, freshman running back Devyn Ford had the biggest play of the day when he found running room on the left side of the field, picked up a key block from receiver Justin Shorter, and scored his first career touchdown, an 81-yard scamper to pay dirt. Going back to his buddy, Clifford hit Hamler again in the corner of the end zone to extend the lead to 41-0.
As good as the offense was, the Penn State defense was the story of the first half. They did not allow Idaho to pick up a first down in the entire first half. They picked up six sacks in the half, led by Yetur Gross-Matos and his 2.5 sacks. Behind the dominant defensive performance and the steady offensive attack, Penn State carried a 44-0 lead into the locker room.
The dominance continued into the second half. Clifford led another touchdown drive, his final drive of the game, which was finished off by Journey Brown on a two-yard touchdown run. The Penn State defense continued to dominate, as well. On Idaho’s first play of the second half, John Reid intercepted the pass and took it deep into Idaho territory, setting up a Noah Cain touchdown run, the first of his career, to make it 58-0.
With the backups in for the fourth quarter, Penn State continued to fire on all cylinders. Backup QB Will Levis connected with freshman tight end Brenton Strange, giving each of them their first career touchdowns. Noah Cain found the end zone for the second time of the day when he notched a nine-yard touchdown run. Then, Nick Eury had a powerful eight-yard run to give Penn State 79 points on the day. His run brought out this reaction from Saquon Barkley:
The Penn State defense played well enough to pitch the shut out. However, a muffed punt by Mac Hippenhammer recovered by Idaho set the Vandals up with great field position. Idaho turned the opportunity into points when Mason Petrino found Logan Kendall in the end zone to put the Vandals on the board. Despite the touchdown, the Penn State defense certainly lived up to the hype on Saturday.
Yes, Idaho is an FCS opponent and not a highly touted one. But, Penn State could not have played any better than they did on Saturday. From start to finish and in all parts of the game, they absolutely dominated. For a season opener, Coach Franklin has to be very pleased with his football team after Saturday.
Penn State fans know the story far too well. Penn State has a lead late in the game and is trying to hold off their opponent that is coming back. They have the ball, with the lead, and either a few first downs or a score seals a victory for them.
In previous games, against USC, Ohio State, and Michigan State, Penn State withered on both sides of the ball. The offense was unable to move the ball, either playing to conservatively, or simply unable to execute. The defense would become porous and worn out. Penn State’s opponent would earn a stop, then eventually take control of the game.
But not today.
Today, the offense drove down the field with only a seven point lead, burning six minutes off the clock and forcing Washington to burn their timeouts. Even with the missed field goal, the offense left but a fool’s chance for Jake Browning and the surging Huskies. The defense took the field and shut the door and sealed Penn State’s 35-28 win in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
Penn State was finally able to slay their demons in close, competitive games. They had jumped out to large leads before and collapsed, but these players and coaches, continue to grow and they finally put it all together when it mattered most. This team had to overcome the one obstacle that had tripped them up so many times before. They finally did.
This team has gone 20-3 since October of 2016; the three losses have come by a combined margin of seven points. Penn State is set to sign a top five recruiting class in February.
Head coach James Franklin has resurrected this program to national relevance and you can add finishing close games to his resume.
Penn State held on until the very last play to defeat Washington, 35-28, in the 2017 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. Turnovers and penalties by the Nittany Lions, as well as big plays by the Huskies allowed Washington to hang in the game. Despite the game being a one score affair, Penn State really dominated from start to finish, both offensively and defensively.
Penn State got the ball to start the game, putting new OC Ricky Rahne to the test early. The Lions managed an 83-yard drive on eight plays, which included two long third down passing conversions by QB Trace McSorley, a theme that would last all day long. On the second long third down conversion, he found all-time leading receiver in Penn State history, DaeSean Hamilton, for a gorgeous 48-yard touchdown catch, on a throw that seemed to fall out of the University of Phoenix Stadium ceiling.
The Penn State offense got the ball right back following a three and out by the Penn State defense. The offense was on the move again as they creeped to the Washington 33-yard line after a defensive holding penalty on the Huskies. However, on the next play, McSorley tried to hook up with TE Mike Gesicki but was intercepted on a nice toe dragging catch in the back of the end zone by Washington DB Byron Murphy.
The Lions defense forced another three and out, with Tyrell Chavis collecting a sack on third down to put an end to the Washington drive. When McSorley and the rest of the offense took the field, they were determined to finish the job this time. Saquon Barkley concluded the 11 play, 64-yard drive by scoring a two-yard rushing touchdown on third and goal, pushing the Penn State lead to 14-0.
Penn State looked ready to force another three and out, as a first down run by Washington RB Myles Gaskin lost yardage and put them behind the sticks. Then, Shane Simmons was called for a roughing the passer penalty, which brought some momentum to the Washington offense. A 52-yard wide receiver pass put the Huskies in the red zone, before QB Jake Browning snuck it in the end zone himself from one yard out, putting the Huskies right back in the game at 14-7.
The Penn State offense responded quickly by driving right down the field, yet again. A 26-yard catch by Gesicki on third down put the Lions in Washington territory. After a first down catch by Juwan Johnson, McSorley found DeAndre Thompkins deep down the sideline on another perfect throw setting up first and goal from the one-yard line. Miles Sanders finished the job off by scoring on a handoff up the middle, taking advantage of increased playing time due to the playing limitations of Saquon Barkley.
After a big first down play, the Penn State defense limited the Huskies on the next three plays, forcing Browning to pooch kick from right around midfield. The Huskies executed the play perfectly, downing the ball inside the Penn State 10 yard line. However, this perfect special team’s play did not matter. On second down, Barkley took the handoff from McSorley and bolted down the sideline, out running the Washington defense for a 92-yard touchdown run. In last season’s Rose Bowl, Barkley displayed his shiftiness and ability to cut on a dime. In this year’s Fiesta Bowl, he highlighted his vision and speed in open space, giving Penn State a commanding 28-7 lead.
After another Washington three and out, Penn State got the ball back with an opportunity to put the game out of reach. A fumble on a pitch from McSorley to Sanders resulted in a Washington takeaway, setting them up deep in Penn State territory. Six plays later, Myles Gaskin found the end zone to cut the Penn State lead to 28-14 before halftime.
Washington received the opening kickoff of the second half and mounted an impressive drive to narrow the lead even more. The Huskies went 80 yards over 13 plays, with Browning finding Aaron Fuller in the end zone to make it a 28-21 game. However, the Lions responded by having a great drive of their own. McSorley found Hamilton in the end zone again on third down, this time from 24 yards out to put the pressure back on Washington.
The defense of the Nittany Lions forced another three and out and the Nittany Lions offense went on another long drive. A third down conversion on a pass to Johnson and a fourth down conversion on a swing pass to Barkley kept the Penn State momentum going inside the red zone. However, McSorley fired a pass across the middle, which was batted at the line and caught for an interception by Austin Joyner.
The Huskies failed to move the ball on the ensuing drive and Penn State struggled as well on their next possession, going three and out and giving the ball right back to the Huskies. Then, lined up in the Wildcat formation, Gaskin took the ball up the middle, made one cut, and cruised to the end zone for a 69 yard run, once again putting the Huskies right back in the game with the score 35-28 with 6:52 left in the game.
When the Penn State offense got the ball back, they embarked on a long drive to ice the game. McSorley found Johnson for another long third down conversion, Barkley converted a third down of his own on the ground, and McSorley found Hamilton yet again to convert another third down on the drive. After the Hamilton first down, Washington Head Coach Chris Peterson started using his timeouts to extend the game. With 1:28 to go, Barkley came up short on third down, forcing James Franklin to make a tough decision with 38 seconds left. He opted to go for it, potentially allowing Barkley to seal the deal. However, a false start pushed the Nittany Lions back and forced a Tyler Davis 45-yard field goal attempt that he pushed to the right of the uprights.
Washington got the ball back with 34 seconds left from their own 28-yard line with no timeouts left. The Lions forced Browning into three incompletions, forcing a 4th & 10 with the game on the line. Browning found Fuller on Chris Peterson’s famous Hook n Ladder play, where Fuller then pitched to Washington special team’s weapon, Dante Pettis, who took the ball far up the sideline before turning back and throwing the ball for a lateral. However, it went right into the hands of Penn State linebacker, Brandon Smith, giving Penn State their first bowl victory since the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
The Lions won the Fiesta Bowl and did so in convincing fashion based on the numbers.
Despite the small margin of victory, this game was a convincing effort that should please all Penn State fans. McSorley was extremely efficient throwing the ball while we saw Barkley shine in potentially his last game in the blue and white. In addition, the defense played well for most of the game. Cutting down on turnovers and preventing big plays will be a point of emphasis going into the offseason for Head Coach James Franklin. However, a victory in the Fiesta Bowl leaves a positive taste for all Penn Staters as the Nittany Lions enter the offseason.
In many games, there always to seems to be the one moment that qualifies as a major turning point. In this game, that moment came early in the 4th quarter. With Penn State nursing a somewhat comfortable 15 point lead, the defense stepped up and Read more