Waking up yesterday I was excited to see the Bulls play on national television and hopeful that they would be competitive against a Power-Five opponent and walk away with a respectable decision. Looking at the final score, you couldn't tell that the Bulls hung around for three full quarters until the flood gates started to open and the defense was too gassed to contain the Penn State offense anymore. However, the real story of the game was the UB offense shooting itself in the foot with penalties killing any offensive momentum and allowing the Penn State defensive line to pin its ears back and get after Joe Licata.
It's the elephant in the room so I might as well address it first: the UB offense had 10 penalties, most false starts and chop blocks. The offense shooting itself in the foot (and I'm talking Alex Murphy-level of being shot in the foot from RoboCop) limited what Coach Leipold could pull from the playbook because the offense was constantly in situations of 1st-and-20, 2nd-and-long, and so on. Right tackle Bobby Blodgett (who for some reason Beth Mowins kept referring to as Roger) was the culprit on several false start penalties that killed promising UB drives; and Brandon Manosalvas was in on a couple of the chop block penalties as well.
Because of the penalties and long distance situations, the Nittany Lions' defensive line, led by Carl Nassib, could pin its ears back and get after Licata on obvious passing downs. These situations showed where the UB offensive line had a sever size, and experience disadvantage against the imposing Nittany Lions defensive line. After not surrendering a sack to the Albany Great Danes in week one, Licata found himself on his back six times, with Nassib collecting three of the sacks. UB just didn't have an answer for the 6-foot-7 mammoth of a defensive end.
However, when the offense wasn't constantly blowing its foot off with mental errors, it operated quite efficiently. In UB's two scoring drives combined, only one penalty was committed. Joe Licata was 12-of-13 for 129 yards and his two touchdowns, while Anthone Taylor ran for 43 yards. The UB offense also had the two longest drives of the day with an 11-play 78 yard drive after halftime featuring a beautiful mix of run and pass and a 4th down conversion before Ron Willoughby caught a jump ball in the endzone to make the game 10-7. On their final scoring drive, Joe Licata marched the offense down the field in a 13-play, 82 yard effort resulting in Marcus McGill's second touchdown grab of the season.
So before you get your pitchforks out, take a step back and see that the offense can work.
The coaching staff is still new and three of the players on the offensive line are new, so mistakes will happen, and they will be amplified in an environment like Beaver Stadium. If there were 0 penalties against the UB offense we would have a completely different story, but hanging on what-ifs is dangerous and we as fans should look for steady improvement throughout the season.
Coming into the game my biggest concern was how the defense was going to match up and fare against the Penn State offense. For all the trouble Penn State had against Temple, I knew that they could be dangerous if given the right opportunities. So I was pleasantly surprised with the defense's performance on Saturday.
In the first quarter the defense came out and made a statement on the first drive of the game, holding Penn State to only 8 yards and forcing a turnover on downs. In fact, the defense only allowed 55 yards in the entire first quarter and only 126 yards in the first half, both very respectable numbers. The real issue was that the offense was not doing the defense any favors by getting quick 3-and-outs and not sustaining drives. The defense was on the field too much in the first half, which showed in the second half, especially the 4th quarter.
UB came out of the half and again limited the Penn State attack, allowing only 55 yards of offense and a field goal in the 3rd quarter. All units were playing in sync, with the defensive line holding strong at the point of attack, the linebackers making good tackles, and the secondary providing excellent coverage. This is a complete 180 from a year ago, and if Tepperball was still being played, this game wouldn't have been nearly as close for so long.
After 3 quarters of fighting valiantly, the flood gates started to open as the Nittany Lions took over after wearing on the UB defense for so long. The Nittany Lions scored on drives of 62 and 74 yards, although one of the touchdowns shouldn't have happened because of a false start that wasn't called on Penn State.
I give credit to Brian Borland for having a solid gameplan and executing on the field where a defense made up of mostly freshmen, sophomores and guys in their first year contributing held their own against a Power-Five opponent and it makes me feel much better about the state of the defense moving forward. My only gripe is that no one was able to get to Hackenberg and sack him.
Two big returns were the story for special teams on Saturday. Penn State returned the opening kickoff 58 yards, but could convert field position into points after the UB defense held strong. The second big return was 58 yards again on a Tyler Grassman punt in the second quarter which set up Penn State's first touchdown. Grassman saved a touchdown on an excellent hustle play, and the return itself was a product of Grassman out-kicking his coverage team which allowed the Penn State returner more cushion after receiving the ball.
Adam Mitcheson shanked a 47 yard field goal attempt, but on a wet grass field that wasn't a total surprise.
An OK game from the unit as a whole. The blocking, outside of the near block on Grassman's first punt, was slightly improved from the game against Albany, but the biggest knock is the two big returns that Penn State had.
By The Numbers
5 - 4th down coversions from the UB offense has through 2 games. It's nice to see Leipold be aggressive on 4th down and go for it. The only conversion that failed was in UB's final offensive possession against PSU. The Bulls are 5-of-6 on the year.
2 - Tackles for loss for linebacker Nick Gilbo had. Gilbo is going to be the leader of the front seven this season and he's shown what he's capable of in Brian Borland's defense. He can drop into zone coverage and make an interception like he did against Albany, or he can stay in the box and get after the ball carrier in the backfield as he did with 2 TFL's against Penn State.
7 - Career losses for Lance Leipold. This was a tough one, coach, but great things are ahead. Shake it off and beat FAU!