STATE COLLEGE – No. 15 Penn State dominated an overmatched Idaho team in the season opener last Saturday, scoring 79 points – the program’s most since 1991.
Tonight, they’ll attempt to replicate that success at home against Buffalo.
If the lopsided victory over the Football Championship Subdivision opponent was a bit of a practice exam, tonight’s game (7:30 p.m., Fox) with Buffalo, like Penn State a Football Bowl Subdivision team, might be a tougher test.
“I know Buffalo is a really good team,” Penn State sophomore wide receiver Daniel George said. “They have pretty good (defensive backs). I feel like the main thing will be us staying focused and playing our game, living up to what we want to do on the field. That will be the main thing to help us get the win this week.”
Buffalo won a program- best 10 games last year en route to an appearance in the Mid-American Conference championship game. The Bulls lost to Northern Illinois, 30-29, to finish as conference runner-up.
The Bulls opened their season down 26 players from last year, but still managed a 38-10 win against Robert Morris last week. Buffalo amassed 354 yards in its season opener, most of which came on the ground. The Bulls rushed 47 times for 285 yards. Sophomore running back Jaret Patterson – 2018 MAC Freshman of the Year – led the way with 90 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries.
Buffalo redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Myers attempted just 10 passes in his debut, but he connected on half of them for 69 yards and two touchdowns.
“Did they do that because it was the first game and they didn’t feel like they needed to, did they not do that because they had a first-year redshirt freshman starting quarterback and they just did not want to put too much on his plate?,” Franklin asked during his weekly press conference. “That’s what you’re not sure of, and these early season games can be challenging like that.”
What Franklin is sure of is Buffalo’s experience on an offensive line that cleared a path for Bulls’ runners to average 6.1 yards per carry. Senior right guard Tomas Jack-Kurdyla enters Saturday with 29 starts while senior left tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk owns a career 26 starts.
“We’re impressed with their offensive line,” Franklin said. “They are physical on the O-line and really at tight end, as well… They are tough, physical and play hard, and I think the tight ends complement them, as well.”
Buffalo will get all it can handle from a Penn State defensive line that stuffed Idaho for just four yards rushing – the second-lowest output under Franklin – and 145 yards of offense. Penn State sacked Idaho quarterbacks seven times. Junior defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos was responsible for 2.5.
“Defensively, I thought for our first game, probably the best first game execution we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Franklin said.
Penn State redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford will make his second career start. Clifford passed for 280 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 57 yards rushing. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver KJ Hamler helped ease Clifford’s transition to starter by catching four passes for 115 yards and two scores.
The Nittany Lions’ run game gashed Idaho for 331 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Journey Brown (Meadville High) and freshman Noah Cain scored two touchdowns apiece. Freshman Devyn Ford led all rushers with 107 yards.
Buffalo’s defense gave up 240 yards (148 rushing and 92 passing) to Robert Morris. Sophomore linebacker James Patterson posted a team-best 77 tackles last year and accumulated five last week. Sophomore defensive end Taylor Riggins tallied five sacks in 2018.
“Their safeties are aggressive downhill guys,” Franklin said. “Their linebackers do a great job in the box. We like their D-end No. 50 (Malcolm Koonce), we like their Will linebacker No. 20 (James Patterson) and their free safety No. 9, Joey Banks.”
Tonight’s contest is the fourth in the series’ history. Penn State owns a 2-1 advantage and earned its most recent victory in 2015, 27-14. A win against Buffalo would move the Nittany Lions to 17-2 against non-conference, regular-season opponents under Franklin.
“I don’t think we’re going to change our approach,” George said. “We approach each week the same, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We take pride and we try to rise to the occasion and try to fit it into our standards.
“I don’t think our approach to Buffalo is going to change as it was to Idaho.”
ELTON HAYES covers Penn State sports for CNHI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.