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No.15 Penn State vs. Buffalo: Game Preview

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Welcome to week two!

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 12 Buffalo at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a hot start to the season, Penn State looks to go 2-0 with a prime time clash against Buffalo.

(#15)Penn State (1-0) vs. Buffalo (1-0)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State -22

TV: FOX- Tim Brando (play-by-play), Spencer Tillman (analyst), Coley Harvey (sideline)

Weather: A perfect sunny day with a high of 72 for tailgating, with temps cooling to the upper 50s throughout the game.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 46-21, 6th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 70-36, 9th Year

VS. BUFFALO: 1-0

Lance Leipold:

BUFFALO RECORD: 24-27, 5th Year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 0-1

NOW THE FUN PART....

BUFFALO OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

The Bulls are in rebuilding mode after a 10-win campaign where they lost the MAC Championship game by just one point to Northern Illinois. The departures were especially prominent on offense.

Former quarterback and 2018 MAC Offensive Player of the Year Tyree Jackson was the biggest loss, after leaving early in hopes of being drafted. In addition to Jackson, the Bulls are also looking to replace their top five receivers from a year ago. Three of those five entered the transfer portals, and have joined Iowa, Maryland and Miami (FL.).

Buffalo is turning to true freshman Matt Meyers at quarterback, who will be playing in his first road game, and facing an FBS team for the first time on Saturday. He went five of 10 for 69 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 38-10 victory over Robert Morris in week one. Despite his 6-4, 222 lb. frame, Myers can still tuck the ball and run when he sees an opening. He was third on the team with 47 rushing yards last week that included a 33-yard score.

Antonio Nunn is the top returning receiver, but only had 12 catches in 2018 and did not have a reception in week one. Tight end Zac Lefebvre led the way with two catches for 43 yards in a game that featured limited passing. Both receptions went for touchdowns, and at 6-6, 240 lbs., expect Lefebvre to be targeted often as the Bulls look to identify mismatches against the Penn State defense.

That will be easier said than done, as the one main takeaway from Penn State on Saturday was the the defense is fast. Like, fast fast. Fortunately for the Bulls, they have an experienced offensive line — but asking them to hold back Penn State’s immensely athletic and deep defensive line will be a huge task.

The Bulls split carries between their two primary running backs last week. Sophomore Jaret Patterson fared slightly better (90 yards and a 7.5 ypc average) than sophomore Kevin Marks, who contributed 75 yards and a 5.8 ypc average.

Now back to that Penn State defense, that is expected to be one of the best in the nation this season, and might be the fastest in recent memory in Happy Valley. This game should be another early showcase for Penn State’s reserve defensive linemen as they look to gain experience and become a regular part of the rotation moving forward.

Lamont Wade made a promising debut in his first start at safety, leading the team with four tackles. Wade looked aggressive and had no trouble seeking out the ball carrier and supporting the run. Sophomore PJ Mustipher also chipped in four tackles, and will be one of the aforementioned young defensive linemen who will play a crucial role this season. Senior outside linebacker Cam Brown will make his first start of the season after being suspended for the first half against Idaho as a result of a targeting penalty in the Citrus Bowl.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. BUFFALO DEFENSE

Buffalo’s defense was hit quite as hard by attrition as the offense, but still have some major holes to fill. The Bulls said farewell to four of its top six tacklers from 2018 and lost standouts in each position group. Linebacker James Patterson is the top playmaker of the defense, and is coming off a season with nine TFLs and four forced fumbles as a freshman. He’s off to a fast start, with five tackles and 1.5 TFLs in week one. Defense end Malcom Koonce also had a big Saturday, with a sack, two TFLs and a forced fumble. Safety Cory Gross Jr. led the team with seven tackles, that included a partial TFL.

Despite the inexperience, the Bulls will present a greater test for Penn State’s young offense than Idaho did in week one. Thanks to the gigantic margin of victory, the Nittany Lions were able to balance things out- not just in regards to rushing vs. passing plays, but overall 13 different receivers recorded a catch while all five running backs received at least five carries.

Two of those running backs are true freshmen Noah Cain and Devyn Ford, who both got off to a hot start for their Penn State careers. Ford finished with 107 yards that included a 81-yard touchdown, while Cain had 44 yards and found the end zone twice. Both figure to play a prominent role in the Nittany Lions running-back-by-committee approach this season.

Quarterback Sean Clifford missed the mark on several early passes in his first start at quarterback before settling in and having an outstanding performance the rest of the way. It will be important for him to eliminate early mistakes and start off on the right foot each week as the schedule grows more difficult.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Buffalo returns its punter, Evan Finegan, but is in the process of replacing its kickers and return men. Finegan got off to a shaky start, averaging just 26 yards on his two punts last week. However, he averaged a respectable 41.8 yards in 2018. Alex McNulty is taking over as placekicker after going three of four last season. He connected on his only field goal attempt of week one, a 40-yarder, in addition to all four extra points. Wide receiver Tito Overton had an impressive 30-yard kick return on his only attempt of the day.

The story of the day for Penn State’s special teams on Saturday was Jordan Stout, the Virginia Tech transfer who had 13 touchbacks and a 53-yard field goal. Jake Pinegar was perfect on the day as well, connecting on both field goal attempts and 10 extra points. Pinegar will continue as placekicker with Stout taking on the longer attempts.

The always-electrifying KJ Hamler will continue to handle kickoff and punt return duties for the Nittany Lions.

PREDICTION

Penn State-49, Buffalo-7

Buffalo is coming off an impressive season, and had they appeared on the schedule in 2018, they would have given the Nittany Lions all they could handle. But this Bulls team is quite different after an offseason of heavy attrition to graduation, chasing NFL dreams, and the transfer portal. Buffalo will now be relying on several young players, including a freshman quarterback, in their first road game of the season- which happens to be a night game in Beaver Stadium. It will be an awful lot to overcome in their bid for an upset.

Buffalo is a much more talented team than Idaho, but Penn State should have no problem overwhelming them with a ferocious defense, and a developing yet explosive offense that should be able to produce enough big plays for a comfortable win.

Yetur Gross-Matos adds another pair of sacks, with fellow Wild Dog Shaka Toney using his lethal first step to pick up two sacks himself. Cam Brown shakes off the rust with a team-high eight tackles, and Garrett Taylor picks off his first pass of the season.

Sean Clifford continues to take command of the offense, throwing three touchdown passes- one to Justin Shorter for the first of his Penn State career. The Nittany Lions backfield has another strong day from top to bottom, and Ricky Slade and Devyn Ford each break off long touchdown runs. Penn State rolls again.