The University at Buffalo football team faces its first ranked opponent in three seasons when it plays at No. 15 Penn State Saturday.
More importantly, UB faces a tactical challenge against the Nittany Lions. The Bulls have to pass the ball and produce a lot more on the fly than they did Thursday in a 38-10 win against FCS opponent Robert Morris.
UB’s offense accrued more than 80 percent of its 354 yards against Robert Morris on the ground, but Penn State (1-0) overwhelmed Idaho's running game in a 79-7 win Saturday.
Idaho, an FCS program, finished with 4 yards on 28 carries, while Idaho quarterbacks Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson combined to throw for 141 yards and one touchdown on 16-of-26 passing. While seven receivers from Idaho caught passes, Petrino was intercepted once, and the quarterbacks were sacked seven times.
“They fly around the ball,” UB quarterback Matt Myers said of Penn State’s defense. “They hit hard, they’re tough and they’re a great defense. We’ve got to be on all cylinders, and we’ll be ready.”
Myers went 5-for-10 passing for 69 yards and two touchdowns against Robert Morris -- the fewest pass attempts for UB in a game since Oct. 2, 2004, when quarterback Chris Moore was 5-for-7 passing (for 195 yards and a touchdown) in a 48-20 win against Central Florida.
UB coach Lance Leipold said Thursday after the win against Robert Morris that field position didn’t allow the Bulls an opportunity to open up their passing game in the third quarter.
But Leipold offered some reexamination during his weekly press conference Tuesday at Murchie Fieldhouse.
“I probably should have called more,” Leipold said of pass plays. “I probably should have insisted it. But the game, and controlling things, didn’t always play out that way. It just kind of worked out that way, and we’ll hopefully have more to show there.”
The Bulls also have to utilize more wide receivers against Penn State. Only four players caught passes for the Bulls against Robert Morris: tight end Zac Lefebvre (two catches for 43 yards, both touchdowns), true freshman Marlyn Johnson (one catch for 27 yards) and running backs Jaret Patterson (one catch for 3 yards and Kevin Marks (one catch for minus-4 yards). Myers attempted only three passes in the second half.
UB is also in a bit of a numbers crunch at wide receiver. Wide receiver Antonio Nunn was not listed on this week’s depth chart, released Tuesday. Leipold said the redshirt junior remains “day to day” with a leg injury. Nunn is UB’s top returning wide receiver from 2018 (12 catches for 146 yards, one touchdown) and did not play last week against Robert Morris.
“He’s doing a little more, but was not available (against Robert Morris),” Leipold said. “I put the guys out there that played in the game (against Robert Morris) and cleared to be listed in the notes.”
Penn State, however, prepares to face a team that plans to run the ball.
“I don't think we're going to change our approach,” Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland told reporters Tuesday in State College, Pa. “We approach each week the same. It doesn't matter who we're playing.
“We take pride and we try to rise to the occasion and try to fit it into our standards. I don't think our approach to Buffalo is going to change as it was to Idaho.”
Leipold didn’t mince words when he made a projection for UB’s passing game against Penn State.
“Are we going to throw the ball more than 10 times?” Leipold asked, rhetorically. “I would pretty much count on that.”