Boos circled the September air in Happy Valley as Penn State and Buffalo headed to the locker rooms at halftime. With a freshman quarterback leading the charge in his second ever start, Buffalo held a 10-7 lead over No. 15 Penn State 30 minutes through.
The lead would be short-lived, but one thing was clear in the Bulls 45-13. Buffalo came to play in front of 110,000 fans in the nation’s second biggest venue.
The scoreboard isn’t indicative of how Buffalo’s offense fared against the Nittany Lion defensive front. The Bulls outgained Penn State 430-359 in the yardage department. Quarterback Matt Myers proved his readiness for the grand stage with 236 passing yards while the halfback duo of Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks combined for 144 rushing yards.
Penn State jumped out to a 7-0 lead after Marks fumbled in Buffalo territory. It didn’t take long for Nittany Lion quarterback to find wide receiver Jahan Dotson in the end zone from 28 yards out. But for the final 8:50 of the first quarter and the entirety of the second, Buffalo’s defense reigned supreme and shut out the Big Ten foe.
Buffalo capped an 8:34 drive with an Alex McNulty field goal, and after forcing two punts, the Bulls would take over on their own 4-yard line for the final drive of the half. On a drive propelled by long receptions by Antonio Nunn and Zac Lefebvre, Buffalo found itself inside the Penn State 10 with under 15 seconds until halftime. That’s when Myers found an open Julien Bourassa in the end zone to secure an improbable 10-7 lead heading into halftime.
Unrest resonated through the State College crowd during the halftime break, and the miscues continued for Penn State. Running back Ricky Slade coughed up the ball in Buffalo territory on the initial drive of the third quarter. But then Buffalo made one mistake that it could never recover from — the surefire turning point of the evening.
On 3rd-and-6, Myers looked to Nunn’s direction on a curl route. While the ball floated through the air, Penn State cornerback John Reid jumped the pattern and sprinted 37 yards straight down the field for the go-ahead score. Penn State led 14-10, and Buffalo would never recapture the lead.
A three-and-out and favorable Nittany Lion field position set up a 23-yard touchdown reception for tight end Pat Freiermuth. While Buffalo notched a field goal on its ensuing possession to keep the game at one score, Penn State responded with quarterback mobility. Clifford ran down the sideline 58 yards before getting tripped up at the 2, and Noah Cain punched it in to create a 28-13 lead for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State scored two more touchdowns on long catch-and-runs. The first one went 28 yards to the tight end Freiermuth (8 receptions, 100 yards) on a fourth down conversion. The second was twice as long, as Dotson (4 receptions, 109 yards) scored his second touchdown of the night from 56 yards out.
While Buffalo escaped the game with valuable experience against a Top 15 opponent, it also left the game with several injuries. Lefebvre, who caught two passes for 32 yards, left the game in the second half and watched from the sidelines on crutches. But the scariest injury of the night struck the punter Evan Finegan. After Penn State running back Journey Brown tipped Finegan’s punt, the punter suffered a nasty collision and left the game on a cart with a broken leg. Backup quarterback Kyle Vantrease picked up punting duties for the Bulls for the remainder of the night.
One of Buffalo’s breakout performers in Happy Valley was wide receiver Antonio Nunn. Nunn seemed to slice and dice Penn State’s zone coverage on his way to career highs in catches (5) and yards (111).
But the Bulls couldn’t contain the Nittany Lions’ wideouts either. Clifford finished the day completing 72.7% of his throws for 280 yards and four touchdowns. Many of Clifford’s yards were picked up after the catch, and Buffalo struggled with tackling Penn State’s wideouts in the open field.
Despite providing an upset scare through two quarters, Buffalo falls to 1-1 after falling to Penn State in a lopsided second half. The Bulls continue their non-conference slate in Lynchburg, VA, with a visit to the house of Hugh Freeze’s Liberty Flames.