STATE COLLEGE - Penn State coach James Franklin last week anticipated a solid test from Buffalo’s offensive line. Those expectations were more than met during the first half Saturday evening.
The Bulls not only outgained Penn State by 63 yards on the ground in the first half, but they also held the football for nearly 13 minutes longer than the Nittany Lions.
Football, however, is a four-quarter game, and the Nittany Lions showed their ability to play through all periods. The test should bode well for them as they enter more dogged Big Ten play later this season.
Penn State’s youth has been touted as both a blessing and a potential liability.
It’s all a work in progress that Franklin believes will become easier to manage with time.
“Typically, if you’ve looked at us, we’ve been able to make pretty good adjustments after the first couple of drives once we see what people are trying to do to attack us,” Franklin said. “That’s where I think we need to improve as a young team, is being able to go to the sideline, get on the board and make the adjustments we need to make to get things corrected.”
A handful of seniors have been tasked with leading by example and through their play, and their contributions factored heavily in Saturday’s outcome.
Cornerback John Reid sat out the 2017 season after suffering an injury that spring. After finding his footing again and learning to trust himself again, Reid returned last season and was a finalist for the Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year.
Reid’s third-quarter interception against Buffalo not only gave Penn State the lead, it injected energy into a listless team that muddled through the first half. Penn State’s offense followed Reid’s pick-six with touchdowns on three straight possessions.
“I think it’s a big part of who we want to be and who we need to be, creating turnovers on defense and then having the mentality once we do get the turnover, that we’re going to have to score points on defense,” Franklin said. “He almost scored last week, too.”
Senior linebacker Cam Brown forced and recovered a fumble in the first quarter to set up Penn State’s first touchdown of the game.
Brown and Reid are part of Nittany Lion nucleus Franklin trusts to set examples on and off the field for the younger players. With any youthful team, there are going to be growing pains. In football, those mainly manifest themselves as penalties and missed assignments.
“We had some penalties that stopped drives,” Franklin said. “I think we had two or three penalties on one drive. The one play, it wasn’t even a (run-pass option). It was a pass play, and we had linemen 10 yards down the field blocking. Great effort, but understand the time and the place.”
Last week, Penn State’s young players took a 44-0 lead into halftime against Idaho. This week, they were on the wrong end of a three-point halftime deficit.
Thanks, in part, to the efforts of seasoned players like Reid and Brown, the team was able to turn that deficit into a 45-13 win.
A team’s character isn’t forged through blowouts. Rather, it’s crafted through the way it handles adversity as well as success. Penn State’s young players received a valuable lesson on both Saturday night.
“I think that adversity was huge for us,” Penn State senior safety Garrett Taylor said. “I think it just showed our guts as a team. We were able to internalize that, get over mistakes we made in the first half and come out in the second half and correct that. It said a lot about us as a team.”