The Buffalo Bulls rolled into Happy Valley on Saturday night, for a prime time national TV match-up against the #15 Penn State Nittany Lions. Not many were predicting the Bulls to put up much of a fight under the bright lights against a Big Ten contender, but the Bulls had Penn State on the ropes until early in the second half.
The game opened with the Bulls winning the coin-flip and electing to receive. On the opening drive the Bulls gained 30 yards and two first downs, one coming on a 13 yard completion from Matt Myers to Antonio Nunn. This was the first of 31 passing attempts on the night, easing concerns from last week that the Bulls would be hesitant to throw the ball this season. Eventually, the Bulls were stopped at the PSU 45, and forced to punt. Evan Finnegan had a solid 32 yard punt that was fair caught at the PSU 13.
On the Nittany Lions’ opening drive, the Buffalo defense looked stout, forcing one yard losses on each of the first two Penn State plays. After a gain of nine that left Penn State with 4th and 3, the Nittany Lions were forced to punt, sending the ball back to the UB 29.
On the second Bulls’ drive of the game RB Kevin Marks carried the ball three consecutive times, but fumbled the ball on the third attempt. The Penn State defense recovered at the UB 37, putting the UB defense in precarious position.
After taking over, the Penn State offense needed just two plays to find their way into the end zone. A nine yard run setup a 28 yard TD pass from Sean Clifford to Jahan Dotson.
Buffalo tried to respond with a scoring drive of their own, driving down to the Penn State 32 yard line, however K Alex McNulty just missed a 49 yard field goal attempt wide right. On the drive, Matt Myers connected with his favorite target, Antonio Nunn for a 42 yard completion. Nunn coming back from injury in this game was a major boost to the passing game, and he appears primed to step into the WR1 role for the Bulls.
After taking over at the spot of the missed FG, the Penn State offense managed to grind out 12 yards and one first down, but the Bulls’ defense again forced a punt. This punt netted 40 yards and was fair caught by Tito Overton at the UB 16.
The UB offense took the field with 3:16 remaining in the first quarter, and ran the ball six times for 24 yards, reaching their own 40 yard line before the end of the quarter. Coming out of the quarter break the Bulls kept the ball on the ground, Jaret Patterson carried the ball six consecutive times taking the Bulls from the UB 49 to the PSU 37. On the next play, Tomas Jack-Kurdyla was called for holding which left UB with a 3rd and 18. The Bulls again turned to Jaret Patterson, but this time on a screen play.
Patterson took the screen pass for 19 yards, earning a first down and putting the Bulls in field goal position. After picking up another 13 yards on the drive, the UB offense stalled out, and Alex McNulty came onto the field to attempt his second field goal of the night. This attempt was good, as McNulty converted on a 32 yard attempt to bring the score to 7-3 PSU.
Following the field goal, Penn State and Buffalo traded punts until Buffalo took over at their own 4 yard line with 4:43 remaining in the half. Matt Myers led a 10 play, 94 yard drive, looking like anything but a freshman. Myers stepped up and made several big throws including a 29 yard pass to Zac Lefebvre, a 40 yard pass to Antonio Nunn and the 6 yard TD pass to TE Julien Bourassa.
Penn State got the ball back with four seconds left on the clock, and they elected to kneel it out. Buffalo took a 10-7 lead into the locker room at halftime amidst a chorus of boos inside of Beaver Stadium.
Penn State got the ball out of the half, and following a 17 yard completion and a defensive pass interference on the Bulls, the Nittany Lions were driving, winding up at the Buffalo 33 yard line. On the next play, Penn State RB Ricky Slade took the hand-off and charged forward for three yards before Eddie Wilson forced a fumble that was recovered by Aapri Washington at the UB 27.
The Bulls took over on what would be a seminal drive for UB’s hopes of an upset bid. The first two plays were carries by Jaret Patterson that totaled four yards, but on the third play of the drive, Matt Myers made his first mistake of the game. Myers was looking for Antonio Nunn on an out route, but Penn State CB John Reid jumped the route and took it to the end zone to give Penn State a lead that they would not again relinquish.
After getting the ball back, Buffalo went three and out. The Bulls punted from their own 27 yard line, but after a 33 yard punt, a 22 yard return, and a 15 yard personal foul penalty on Evan Finegan, Penn State took over at the UB 23. From there it took just one play for the Nittany Lions to capitalize with Sean Clifford connecting with TE Pat Freiermuth for a 23 yard TD pass to put Penn State up 21-10.
Following a massive swing in momentum, the UB offense bounced back well on their following drive. The Bulls led a drive fueled by 25+ yard plays by both Kevin Marks and Carlton Todd, taking the ball from their own 25 down to the PSU 8. The Bulls were unable to punch it in from there, however Alex McNulty came in to nail the 25 yard FG, making him 2 for 3 on the night, and bringing the score to 21-13 PSU.
Penn State’s quick-strike offense had no problem answering back, needing just three plays to take it from their own 35 to the end zone. The majority of the damage was done on a 58 yard run by Nittany Lion QB Sean Clifford. The score read 28-13, but the deficit felt much larger after Penn State managed to score 3 TDs in under 9 minutes.
The following drive for Buffalo was a three and out, but it was much more notable for what happened on the punt. UB punter Evan Finegan was hit on his follow through by a Penn State player, which resulted in a gruesome injury that I won’t post here, and I wouldn’t recommend seeking out if you are squeamish. Good news is that he seems to be in good spirits, and he is undergoing surgery on his leg today.
After getting the ball back, Penn State picked up one first down before being forced into a 4th down decision at the UB 28 yard line. PSU Coach James Franklin elected to go for it. The Nittany Lions got the first down and much more with Sean Clifford connecting with Pat Freiermuth for a second TD on the night, this one from 28 yards out.
On their next drive, the Bulls picked up a couple of first downs, but weren’t able to get much going, having to punt from the PSU 49. Backup QB Kyle Vantrease was the emergency punter and had a 17 yard punt here. It will be interesting to see if Vantrease remains the punter for the season with Finegan injured, or if somebody that didn’t travel with the team for this game will assume punting duties.
Penn State took over at their own 32 with 0:52 remaining in the 3rd quarter, and Clifford was able to connect with star WR KJ Hamler on a 45 yard play before the end of the quarter getting the Nittany Lions down to the UB 19. Coming out of the quarter break the UB defense was able to stand stout and force a FG, which Jake Pinegar was able to convert from 32 to give PSU a 38-13 lead.
The following UB drive again had some sustained success moving the chains, but fizzled out at the PSU 44. On this drive the UB OL ceded their first (and only) sack of the game, which is an encouraging sign going into games against lesser opponents. Penn State has a stacked front seven, and projected first round draft pick Yetur Gross-Matos had 2.5 sacks last week alone. Kyle Vantrease once again punted the ball away to finish this drive, this time netting 34 yards, pinning the PSU offense at their own 10 yard line.
With PSU at their own 10 yard line, the Buffalo defense managed two sacks on Clifford and forced a 3 and out, forcing Penn State to punt from their own 2 yard line. After a 42 yard punt, and 11 yard return by Ron Cook, UB took over at the PSU 33. From there the Bulls went four and out, failing to convert on a 4th and 2 from the Penn State 25.
After taking over on downs, Penn State converted one first down before scoring a 56 yard TD. Penn State WR Jahan Dotson fooled CB Ali Abbas on a stop and go route, and Sean Clifford made him pay, finding Dotson on the 56 yard strike.
This play concluded scoring on the evening with the score Penn State 45, UB 13. Each team had possession during the last 3:01, but both teams ran clock to end the game.
While the score was not pretty in the end, there were a lot of positives to take from this game for UB, and the Bull Run staff shares the sentiments of Joey Banks:
"The score doesn't really reflect how tough, how good our team is." -Joey Banks— Run the Triple Option Lance (@UBBullRun) September 8, 2019
I take the same sentiment from this game. I saw more potential in this team in this loss than in a 28 point win against Robert Morris
Most people had the Bulls defeating Robert Morris, and losing to Penn State, so next week, in more of a toss-up game at Liberty, is where the Bulls season gets interesting as they fight for bowl eligibility, and eventually the MAC championship.