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Stat Preview: Can Nittany Lions Roar?

Maybe a more important question... How do the two teams compare statistically up to this point? With a small sample size, we look at what the numbers tell us so far.

Here we see Christian Hackenberg about to be sacked by the cameraman in the background
Here we see Christian Hackenberg about to be sacked by the cameraman in the background
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

State University of New York at Buffalo Bulls (1-0) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (0-1)

Everyone should know the narrative leading up to this game so far. UB is coming off a big win over a less than impressive foe in Albany, but looked sharp nonetheless. Penn State allowed 10 sacks in their opener, and mix in an inoperable offense you have what would be their first loss of the season. Here comes the part where a victory for UB seems to become more believable.

Ten. Sacks. Let's start here:

Not sure that I've seen anything quite like this, but this will be the main topic of game coverage from all media outlets. I would be much more confident if the UB Defensive Line wasn't in a rebuilding period. While they have had flashes of potential from newcomer Justin Brandon, there was not much to be seen from them against Albany. I expected more simply because of the size differential.

Those 10 sacks cost Penn State a total of 61 yards over the course of the game. Take those 61 yards and spread them throughout the game, and I'm sure you can piece together why the outcome was a loss for Penn State.

Oh, and their depth chart has not changed at all from last week...

Christian Hackenberg:

Projected first-round pick with a 3.2 QBR, huh? Joking aside, you can't really expect much from a QB when their OL is replaced by a colander.

Completions Attempts Yards Comp % YPA Long TD INT
Christian Hackenberg 11 25 103 44% 4.12 30 0 1

Pretty obvious, but the key here is to keep his completion percentage below 50%. Looking at past seasons, Hackenberg has posted a 59.8% and a 55.8% in 2013 and '14, respectively. So we're not talking about great numbers that he has had previously. Heck, even Licata had a 64.9% last year.

The other point worth noting is the importance of UB winning the turnover margin category. Joe Licata averaged 1 interception a game last season and Anthone Taylor averaged .27 lost fumbles per game. If I was a betting man, which I am, I would expect two turnovers from UB on Saturday. So it's simple - take the ball away from Penn State more than twice.

Akeel Lynch:

If you either believe that 1) Christian Hackenberg is over-hyped or 2) He doesn't fit into the system that James Franklin is attempting to impose, you might turn your attention to Lynch to be the reason why Penn State might be successful.

Carries Yards Average Long TD
Akeel Lynch 10 78 7.8 42 (TD) 1
Brandon Polk 2 50 25 33 0

What's interesting here from purely this table is the small number of times Lynch was given the ball. Most likely the cause was playing from behind and committing themselves to the pass game. The average/carry is also skewed by the 42-yard TD run. Omitting that play gives him an average of 4.0 yards per carry.

For UB to be successful they must manage to keep Akeel Lynch around this number. You can expect him to touch the ball more this game, as Penn State will most likely not be playing catch-up for most of this game. UB was able to contain big-plays against Albany (unlike 2014), and they will have to do so again to see success.

Also worth noting is the freshman WR Brandon Polk's two carries for substantial yardage. If PSU tries some sweeps or reverses I feel confident in Ross and Baker's tackling ability in open space.

UB Offense:

Where did Temple find success? In their run-game. Cumulatively, they ran the ball 43 times for 149 yards and 3 touchowns. It should not be a difficult task for UB to do the same if in the right situation, Between Taylor, Johnson, and Hawkins they can easily distribute 43 carries across the board. Last week, the RB's went against a weak defensive line and Albany's premier linebacker left the game due to injury. They will have more of a task this week, but with a good mix of run and pass, they should be able to accomplish what they set out to do.

My key for success for Licata: Aim for his average yards per completion to be around 6-7 yards. To be successful, they will need to find short, underneath routes against a relatively fresh linebacking crew. With such depth at WR and TE, and Joe being very effective at this distance, UB has the potential to do just this.

If I had to take a guess, I would also expect less hurry-up, no-huddle offense than we saw against Albany. There still may be a presence, but there were a couple mistakes because of the tempo. Those mistakes cannot be made against our next opponent.

That does it for this week's stat preview. It's kind of hard to draw significant, meaningful data from one week of play. Look for the series to become more in-depth as the season continues and I have more data to work with.

Go Bulls!