Penn State’s 45-24 win over Buffalo had been over for less than an hour Saturday when the Nittany Lions were encountered with questions concerning the start of the Big Ten season and their next opponent, some team called “Michigan.”
Among them: Are the Nittany Lions where they want to be heading into the Big House this Saturday?
“I thought we were after Notre Dame,” said senior linebacker Dan Connor. “But we showed some weaknesses in this game.”
After cruising through the first three quarters against quarterback Drew Willy and a scrappy bunch of Bulls, the Penn State defense finally surrendered a touchdown this season — then two more — in the fourth. The shaky finish, coupled with another crawling start by the offense, should give the Nittany Lions plenty to think about as they prepare to face the Wolverines this week.
Here’s a look back at Saturday’s running with the Bulls.
The Good• O-yeah. Even with a pair of inexperienced right guards (Mike Lucian and true freshman Stefen Wisniewski), Penn State’s offensive line did its job Saturday. Tailbacks Austin Scott and Rodney Kinlaw had — on most plays — ample room to run and quarterback Anthony Morelli was sacked just once. Right tackle Dennis Landolt made sure Buffalo’s most dangerous rusher, end Trevor Scott, was merely an afterthought.
• In Rod we trust. Kinlaw, who rushed for a career-high 129 yards, displayed his customary burst but showed Saturday that he is also learning to wait for and follow his blocking.
• Fearsome twosome. Officially, linebackers Dan Connor and Sean Lee were credited with 12 tackles apiece, but it would have been easier to count the plays they weren’t involved in than the plays they were. They're both in midseason form already.
• Quiet progress. His accuracy wasn’t great early on, but Morelli rebounded to make a number of great throws – and great play-fakes -- against a porous Buffalo defense and finished with a completion percentage of 74. More importantly, Penn State’s quarterback was turnover-free and made, for the most part, good decisions with the football. The return of impact tight end Andrew Quarless is only going to help his progression.
The Bad• Cracked open. Penn State’s defensive starters would be the first to tell you they lacked focus and intensity Saturday, and the Bulls made them pay, piling up 287 yards and three touchdowns in the second half.
• Ball security. Scott’s pair of first-quarter fumbles were his third and fourth of a season that is three games old. Joe Paterno rewards seniors who have waited their turn, as Scott has, but he has little tolerance for fumbling regardless of class.
• Bumped up. Tony Davis added a shoulder stinger to John Shaw’s bad knee and Lou Eliades’ concussion. Injuries are slowly adding up for the Nittany Lions as they prepare to enter always-physical Big Ten play.
• Where are the backups? You’d never get Paterno to admit it publicly, but he and the coaches had hoped to get more second-teamers – particularly quarterback Daryll Clark, tailback Evan Royster and some of the greener offensive linemen – more work against overmatched foes Florida International, Notre Dame and Buffalo. They might not see any action now until the Nov. 10 game at Temple.
After his 51-yard reception against Notre Dame last week, Chris Bell was held without a catch Saturday. Fellow wide receiver Terrell Golden, who caught a 27-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, now has seven career catches – nearly a third of his career reception total -- for 20 yards or more. ... Penn State hadn’t allowed 21 offensive points in a quarter since a 27-14 loss to Boston College in 2003. Buffalo’s 395 total yards were the most allowed in a game by the Nittany Lions since Minnesota put up 415 in an overtime game in the sixth week of 2006.