Well, the final score turned out the way many of us thought it would, but the way Penn State looked and especially the way Buffalo looked certainly didn’t. A piss-poor first half was followed up with PSU looking like the superior talented team in the second half and taking over the game on both sides of the ball.
Also, to any disgruntled Tennessee or Florida State fans reading this: I highly recommend giving Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold a serious look should your respective teams be riding the coaching carousel come December.
Anyway, on to the grades!
Sean Clifford’s 16-for-22 passing for 279 yards and four touchdowns, as well as using his deceptive speed to rattle off a 58-yard run were pretty solid. He seemed too quick at times to tuck and run and his reads in the RPO are a work in progress, but those are the types of issues which are to be expected, considering this was only his second career start.
Running Back: D
Take away Clifford’s run and the #LawnBoyz had 39 yards on 11 total carries. Journey Brown had a nice 10-yard run on PSU’s first scoring possession and Noah Cain displayed that patience and power to get into the end zone late in the third quarter. Otherwise, this was quite a forgettable evening for this unit. We may also see Ricky Slade supplanted as the starter after fumbling a pair of balls, one of which killed a very promising opening drive in the second half before John Reid saved the night.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: A-
It was the Pat Freiermuth/Jahan Dotson Variety Hour as the two combined for a whopping 12 receptions for 209 yards and four TD’s. KJ Hamler, despite dropping a critical catch on third down in the second quarter that would’ve extended the drive (and perhaps ultimately led to some PSU points or at the very least, given Buffalo less time to drive downfield for the go-ahead TD that had the BSD slack channel apocalyptic), had a decent outing with 63 yards on three catches, including a 45-yarder.
Offensive Line: C-
While they seemed to give Clifford enough time in pass protection, the run blocking was absolutely putrid. Perhaps it didn’t help that Buffalo’s strategy was to try and take away the ground game, but you would’ve liked to see these guys not get pushed around by Buffalo’s defensive line.
Defensive Line: C+
The run defense was quite leaky in the first half and the pass rush was lacking for most of the night (Yetur Gross-Matos only managed to garner half a sack). They did at the very least, help hold Buffalo’s running game a tad more in check in the second half but overall, this was a very disappointing performance from a unit we’ve come to expect great things from.
Jan Johnson led the team with 14 tackles and his teammates Cam Brown and Micah Parsons (10 tackles each - Parsons with two tackles for a loss) also were quite active in bringing down Buffalo ball carriers. For as good as Johnson is though at stopping ball carriers who come right at him, he remains a liability in pass coverage and you can bet that opposing offensive coordinators will be scheming to get him stuck in one-on-one situations with their most athletic skill players. Brent Pry opted not to blitz with the linebackers, so nobody was able to garner a sack.
John Reid’s pick-six was the play of the game, as it permanently swung momentum back towards Penn State shortly after Slade’s fumble a few plays earlier. He truly is looking the part of a seasoned veteran who is the leader of the secondary and will be relied upon to come up with more clutch plays like that as the season goes on. It was also nice to Jaquan Brisker make his first big play at the major college level, blowing up a run play in the backfield. That being said, it was not the best of the nights for this unit, as Buffalo receiver Antonio Nunn and tight end Zac Lefebvre burned the secondary multiple times for big gains, and Reid’s pick-six is the main reason this grade isn’t lower.
Special Teams: A
For all the issues this team had offensively and defensively, there were no such complaints about the special teams. Jordan Stout was perfect on kickoffs once again, booting every kickoff into the end zone for a touchback, including one from PSU’s 30-yard line after a penalty forced them to back up five yards. Jake Pinegar remains perfect on field goals for the season after nailing his lone attempt from 31 yards out.
KJ had a nice little 22-yard punt return but did not get a chance to field any kickoffs, as opposing teams seemed to have wisened up and are avoiding his side of the field. The punt game was also better, as Blake Gillikin averaged 41 yards on his five punts, including a long of 51 yards.
Also, it goes without saying that our thoughts are all with Buffalo punter Evan Finegan and we wish him a speedy recovery. We’re not going to post a link to the injury, but if you are that curious and can stomach it, that’s what Google’s for.