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Penn State’s Post-Buffalo Report Card

Penn State football notched its second win of the season Saturday with a 45-13 victory over Buffalo.

The Nittany Lions’ first-half performance was sluggishly brutal, but they came out in the second half and completely took over the action. John Reid’s first collegiate pick-six gave Penn State a lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the evening as the team outscored Buffalo 38-3 in the final two quarters.

With that in mind, here are our grades for Penn State’s week two performance:

Quarterback: A-

Sean Clifford played well on Saturday night, and his strong performance was reflected on the stat sheet.

Clifford finished the night 16-for-22 with 279 passing yards and four touchdowns. He went a bit quiet in the second quarter after an early, deep touchdown to Jahan Dotson, but the redshirt sophomore came out slinging in the second half.

Clifford engineered a promising first drive of the half that abruptly ended because of a Ricky Slade fumble, and John Reid’s momentum-changing pick-six opened the floodgates for the quarterback to ball out for the remainder of the evening.

Another touchdown pass to Dotson was the exclamation point of a performance that included two scores by Pat Freiermuth. Clifford’s 58-yard run to set up Noah Cain’s third score of the season was perhaps the highlight of his performance.

Running Backs: C-

Penn State’s running game couldn’t get much going throughout Saturday night’s contest, and it certainly factored into the team’s sluggish first-half performance.

Clifford was the Nittany Lions’ leading rusher on Saturday after finishing with 51 yards on the ground. Journey Brown was second with 28 rushing yards on six carries, but beyond that, the running backs contributed just 11 yards on the ground.

If not for John Reid’s pick-six, Ricky Slade’s third-quarter fumble could’ve been disastrous for Penn State. The play ended an excellent opening drive to the second half, sucked the life out of Beaver Stadium, and gave Buffalo all the momentum in the world.

Noah Cain finding the end zone from two yards out saved the unit from a worse grade. Buffalo’s defensive line is relatively inexperienced, but it managed to bottle up Penn State’s running game for most of Saturday night.

Wide Receivers: B

Jahan Dotson stole the show for Penn State on Saturday night. His breakout performance included four receptions for a team-leading 109 yards and two touchdowns.

Fans knew about Dotson’s potential after watching his brief appearances last season, and the sophomore’s sharper route running has helped him get closer to his ceiling. The defender guarding Dotson on his second touchdown of the night had his ankles shattered by a gorgeous double-move, and he also got open with a great route prior to his first score.

Elsewhere, KJ Hamler had a quieter day by his standards. He made three grabs for 62 yards, but he did have a bad concentration drop on an open pass in the flat. The redshirt sophomore had lots of green grass in front of him, but he didn’t secure the ball before making his move upfield.

Justin Shorter also made just one catch for nine yards while none of Penn State’s meaningful wide receiver depth — including Mac Hippenhammer, Cam Sullivan-Brown, and Daniel George — made it onto the stat sheet. The wide receivers’ blocking was excellent — particularly on Pat Freiermuth’s second touchdown reception of the evening.

Tight Ends: B+

Pat Freiermuth was phenomenal in the passing game on Saturday night. After making just one grab against Idaho, Freiermuth hauled in a team-leading eight passes for 99 yards and two scores against the Bulls.

“Baby Gronk” walked into the end zone untouched on his first touchdown of the evening after a perfectly executed play-action pass by Clifford. Freiermuth then made a huge play on 4th and 2 by taking an RPO to the house from 28 yards out. The throw wasn’t perfect, but Freiermuth hauled it in with one hand and used some excellent blocking from KJ Hamler and Jahan Dotson to find the end zone.

None of Penn State’s other tight ends made catches against the Bulls, but they honestly didn’t need to because of how well Freiermuth played.

Offensive Line: C

Penn State’s offensive line struggled in its first true test of the 2019 season. The unit allowed Sean Clifford to get sacked three times, and Buffalo also posted seven tackles for a loss of yardage throughout Saturday night’s game.

The Nittany Lions managed to post just 90 yards on the ground against the Bulls, but they did do a nice job of bottling up Buffalo’s experienced defensive ends. Taylor Riggins and James Patterson split just one sack on Saturday, but Joey Banks and first-year starter Chibueze Onwuka posted the other two sacks from the safety and tackle positions, respectively.

Penn State’s offensive line will have to bounce back against Pitt in order to give the team the best chance to win.

Defensive Line: C-

Sean Spencer’s Wild Dogs got pushed around quite a bit throughout the first half of Saturday’s game. They bounced back in the second half as Penn State finished the evening with just one sack and 10 tackles-for-loss.

Yetur Gross-Matos and linebacker Ellis Brooks combined for the Nittany Lions’ only sack of the game. Buffalo relied on its running game and put up 184 yards on the ground to show for it, but quarterback Matt Myers also played well thanks to the lack of pressure in his face for the vast majority of Saturday night.

Although the group as a whole struggled to impact Saturday’s game, there were a few standout individual performances for Penn State in the trenches. Fred Hansard played well with three tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss, and Robert Windsor led the defensive line with five stops. Talented depth players Jayson Oweh and PJ Mustipher also made a combined seven tackles against Buffalo.

Linebackers: B+

Cam Brown, Jan Johnson, and Micah Parsons were all excellent from a tackling standpoint on Saturday night. The trio combined for 32 tackles — 12 of which came from Johnson.

Johnson got beat on a couple of seam routes by Buffalo tight end Zac Lefebvre, and those plays kept the Bulls’ alive on those particular drives. Beyond that, however, the starting three truly lived up to Penn State’s #LinebackerU reputation.

Beyond that trio, true freshman Brandon Smith delivered his second massive hit in as many games, and backup Ellis Brooks chipped in half a sack against the Bulls. Jesse Luketa also made a pair of stops for the Nittany Lions, but none of the reserves necessarily stood out.

Secondary: B

This grade may seem low for a unit that was responsible for the game-changing pick-six in the third quarter, but Penn State’s secondary had far from a perfect game against a first-year starting quarterback.

John Reid made an excellent read on his 36-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, and that was undoubtedly the top highlight of Saturday’s game. However, Matt Myers definitely made plays against Penn State’s pass defense.

True freshman cornerback Keaton Ellis got burned on a couple of deep routes, and Myers finished with a total of 245 passing yards. At safety, Garrett Taylor and Jaquan Brisker both played well with eight and six tackles, respectively. Brisker — a junior college transfer from Lackawanna College — also recorded his first collegiate sack on Saturday night.

Tariq Castro-Fields was beaten in coverage on a few occasions, too, but he also finished the evening with eight tackles. It’s easy to take his excellent tackling ability for granted, but a lot of his solo stops prevented big plays for the Bulls’ offense.

Special Teams: A

Penn State’s special teams performance against Buffalo was perfect except for the fact that Jordan Stout squibbed one of his kickoffs. That play, which was an egregious waste of one of the most powerful kickers in college football, was wiped off the board because of an offside penalty. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been wiped off the list of the game’s most memorable moments yet.

Stout was excellent as usual by sending all of his kickoffs (including the re-kick following the offside) for touchbacks. Placekicker Jake Pinegar nailed his only field goal try of the game from 32 yards out and went 6-for-6 on extra points.

Blake Gillikin had a nice day punting the ball. He totaled 206 yards on his five punts, including a 51-yarder, and managed to pin the Bulls back at their own four-yard line on one of his kicks.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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