STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The University at Buffalo defense succumbed to too much Penn State team speed Saturday but not before showing it could be much better than expected this season.
The Nittany Lions made just enough big offensive plays to escape with a 27-14, rain-soaked victory at Beaver Stadium. All of those big offensive plays were made by speedy, four- and five-star recruits, the likes of which UB will not be seeing in the Mid-American Conference.
UB’s defense could take heart from the following:
• It kept the team in the game into the fourth quarter.
• The Bulls trailed only 10-0 at halftime and were within 13-7 after three quarters.
• Penn State managed only 15 first downs, the same number as UB.
• UB held Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg to 14 completions and 128 yards passing.
• UB held Penn State’s starting running back, Akeel Lynch, to just 46 yards on 19 carries, a 2.4-yard average.
“I thought we battled extremely well to put the game exactly where we wanted it to be,” said UB coach Lance Leipold. “We had an opportunity to win in the fourth quarter. We gave up some big plays and didn’t make enough ourselves.”
UB did not have an answer for Penn State’s fastest players.
DeAndre Thompkins returned a punt 58 yards in the second quarter to set up the first touchdown. He’s a four-star recruit and was rated one of the top 40 prep receivers in the nation two years ago. The TD came on a 22-yard end around by Brandon Polk, a 10.6-second, 100-meter sprinter from Virginia.
Polk struck again on a 20-yard reverse in the third quarter, which led to a field goal that gave Penn State a 13-7 lead.
Then Penn State rode speedy freshman running back Saquon Barkley in the fourth quarter. He rushed eight times for 101 yards in the final 15 minutes to seal the game.
Barkley, from the Allentown, Pa., area, was rated the No. 9 high school back in the country last season.
Yet UB’s defense, which returned just three starters from last year, was not overpowered by Penn State for the bulk of the game.
UB tweaked its defensive front on about a dozen plays by switching defensive tackle Brandon Crawford to defensive end, essentially playing three defensive tackles in the four-man line. Crawford said the D-line was well prepared by coordinator Brian Borland and line coach Tim Edwards.
“I think my coaches did a great job of game-planning,” Crawford said. “I feel like the defensive line did a great job today. Out of respect for Coach Edwards and our defensive coordinator Coach Borland, I just feel like this week in preparation for the game they were really on us about stopping the run. Coach Edwards really stressed staying in our gaps coming off the ball.”
UB also avoided assignment mistakes despite playing two new safeties.
Hackenberg hit a 38-yard pass down the sideline midway through the fourth quarter. That was his only completion of longer than 11 yards.
“One of our major goals as a defense is to not give up big plays,” said senior linebacker Okezie Alozie. “Last year there was talk about giving up too many big plays. This year we’re making it a big thing. I think the guys in the secondary, especially the young safeties, have done a great job of being attentive, doing their job right.”
“The mess-ups haven’t shown up on Saturday but during the week we mess up,” Alozie said. “I’d rather have us mess up during the week than on game day. We make sure we get everything corrected during the week.”