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40 Random Thoughts on Buffalo

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Random musings on the weekend that was against the Bulls

Heather Weikel/Black Shoe Diaries

On Saturday evening, under the bright lights of Beaver Stadium, the Penn State Nittany Lions hosted the Buffalo Bulls in prime time. After a slow start, the Nittany Lions pulled away in the second half and emerged victorious, 45-13. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below.

  1. I can’t believe no one else has used this lead photo yet. What is Micah Parsons doing here, anyway?
  2. I always wanted to know what a Tom Bradley defense would look like when paired with a modern, efficient offense.
  3. In fact, nearly eight years ago, I wrote about it. Here. On this very site.
  4. I finally got my answer on Saturday night. It turns out that it’s almost exactly how I envisioned it would be.
  5. What if I had told you on Saturday morning that Penn State would beat Buffalo 45-13, Sean Clifford would throw 4 touchdowns without turning the ball over, special teams would play a key role in multiple scoring drives, and the defense would score points? How disappointed would you have been?
  6. Right, so why is there so much teeth gnashing about this game?
  7. Bill Connelly has this exactly right - Buffalo played “a HEROIC game of keep-away for a while...Then Q3 happened.”
  8. As it turns out, Q3, and, in fact, Q4, matter just as much as the first half.
  9. But ugh, the first half.
  10. What’s odd is that for a few minutes, this game looked like it would be 14-3 at the half. Up to the 6:25 mark in the second quarter, the Nittany Lion defense had forced a fumble, forced a missed field goal, and withstood a 19-play drive that featured four 3rd down conversions, holding Buffalo to a field goal.
  11. After exchanging punts, the offense finally started to look like rhythm. Sean Clifford to KJ Hamler - 18 yards. Journey Brown busts one for 10 (nearly more), and 3 total rushes for 16. Then on third down, Hamler drops an easy pass that keeps the drive moving well into Buffalo territory.
  12. Right as that pass was thrown, you could easily see Penn State scoring, going up 14-3 and likely holding the lead going into the half. Instead, they punt the ball back to Matt Myers and the Bulls offense.
  13. So of course, in true Penn State “bend-but-don’t-suck fashion,” Buffalo became ruthlessly efficiently.
  14. You have to admire a redshirt freshman quarterback who starts at his own 4 yard line and directs a 6 minute touchdown drive against this Penn State defense to close out the half. Kid went 5/5 and threw for the score. Nifty.
  15. Everything that could have gone right for Buffalo in the first half mostly did. Mostly.
  16. They survive a turnover and score and missed a field goal, but also did exactly what a team like the Bulls should do in this scenario - play within itself, make the right reads, keep a young quarterback out of trouble, and, except for the aforementioned Penn State touchdown, avoided big plays on the defensive side.
  17. Some Power 5 team is missing out on Lance Leipold. That guy can coach, and he’s managed to stock that Buffalo roster with a bunch of talented guys.
  18. Of course, there are two halves in a football game. And, as should have been expected, the wheels came off the Buffalo wagon in the second half of this one.
  19. Penn State’s first drive of the second half looked a lot like its last drive of the first. Except instead of a dropped pass, it was a forced fumble.
  20. I seem to remember coaches talking about playing complementary football, and that’s certainly what happened here. In the first half, Cam Brown’s forced fumble led to the Jahan Dotson touchdown pass two plays later.
  21. In the second half, the John Reid pick-6 led to another 3-and-out, which led to a terrific KJ Hamler punt return, which led to a single play touchdown drive.
  22. This team just stacks big plays on top of each other. It’s been that way for several years, I know, and it’s frustrating to watch them get nothing on some drives. But when they get going, they just don’t stop.
  23. Case in point - this game was 10-7 Buffalo, then in the blink of an eye, it was 28-13.
  24. Jahan Dotson - DaeSean Hamilton reincarnated, or Jordan Norwood reincarnated?
  25. The value of a guy like KJ Hamler cannot be overstated. He didn’t have a huge game like he did against Idaho, but he did contribute in multiple facets and those special teams contributions make life much easier for Clifford and the gang. Why go 70 yards when you can go 40?
  26. Best wishes on a speedy recovery to Buffalo punted Evan Finegan. After hearing what happened to him, I can’t imagine how he was able to put on a good face and wave to the fans while being carted out of Beaver Stadium.
  27. I don’t care about fans booing the team at the half. That’s meaningless. But anyone cheering for an injury to a punter should be publicly shamed on the 50 yard line this weekend.
  28. The offensive line appeared fine to me this week. I thought so live and again on a re-watch.
  29. The running game concerns are a good narrative, but feel overblown for several reasons. For one, we know there’s exceptional talent back there. Second, the offensive line was ok. Third, we’re basing our opinions about performance on 11 total carries for the running backs. No one had more than 6 carries, and that guy (Journey Brown) averaged nearly 5 yards per carry.
  30. If anything, Sean Clifford needs to run less. He’s got terrific (and surprising) straight line speed, but the reads need some work. There was one read we discussed internally where the tape shows Buffalo linebackers diving in and Penn State with a numbers advantage on the right side. Brown, the back in question, could’ve had a huge gain. Instead, Clifford pulled it and dove up the middle for virtually no gain.
  31. These are difficult plays to diagnose, and I’m certainly in favor of those mistakes happening against the Idahos and Buffalos of the world, rather than the Ohio States and Michigans.
  32. Along these same lines, there appears to be a movement to write off Ricky Slade this week.
  33. In two games, Slade has carried the ball 8 times. Of course, he fumbled twice this week. Not ideal. On the other hand, he’s what, 19? There’s lots of room for growth.
  34. That’s mostly what I took away from this week. There’s a lot of room for growth on both sides of the ball.
  35. Except for Pat Freiermuth. Don’t go changin’, Pat. We love you just the way you are.
  36. Ricky Rahne called a perfectly fine game on Saturday. Loved the 4th down call to Free Moose that went for a score. I also liked the early calls that were designed to take advantage of our playmakers and get Clifford in a rhythm. The first two offensive sets featured Clifford on quick hitters to Hamler first, then Freiermuth second. Buffalo played them well, but those are the three guys we need to play well in order to be a threat every week. Might as well get them involved early.
  37. That last touchdown throw from Clifford to Dotson was a beauty, but I would’ve been perfectly happy with Will Levis running that drive. The most frustrating part of Saturday’s game to me was seeing Penn State up by 25 points with 8 minutes left, then looking at a drive chart that says - “Sean Clifford - pass incomplete; Sean Clifford - sacked; Sean Clifford - sacked.”
  38. Survive and advance. Move up in the polls. Get ready for the rest of the schedule.
  39. On to Pitt.
  40. We are...