If there’s an area Matt Myers needs to focus on as the University at Buffalo football team prepares to face Penn State, it isn’t one you’d necessarily think of.
Myers has to be loud. Louder than usual. The redshirt freshman quarterback and Bulls (1-0) enter one of college football’s more frenzied environments when they play at No. 15 Penn State (1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
“I have to work on my clap (cadence), so my linemen can hear it," Myers said this week. “We’ve talked as an offense about what to do if that’s not working, or if the whisper (cadences) aren’t working. There’s lots of things, that we’re going to be ready to adjust.”
Myers has to prepare for more than just the noise, though. He'll have to prepare to pass more, too.
Penn State pressured Idaho's quarterbacks and forced the Vandals to pass in the Nittany Lions' 79-7 win against Idaho last weekend, though the lopsided score early was a factor. The Vandals gained only four yards on 28 carries, and quarterbacks Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson were sacked seven times for a loss of 53 yards. Petrino and Richardson finished a combined minus-44 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Against Penn State, UB’s offense will likely shift to its passing game, which in some ways is still in its infancy. Myers, a redshirt freshman, will make only his second college start.
Myers went 5-for-10 passing for 69 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-10 opening win against Robert Morris.
Penn State coach James Franklin noted that it's hard to tell why UB threw so few passes in the opener.
"You look at what they did last year — obviously, with a veteran quarterback — they did some really good things in the passing game," he said this week. "So we're not really sure, did they (throw only 10 times) because it was the first game and they didn't feel like they needed to? Did they not do that because they had a first-year redshirt freshman starting quarterback and they just did not want to put too much on his plate? That's what you're not sure of, and these early season games can be challenging like that."
Jim Kubiak, a former Naval Academy quarterback and director of the Western New York Quarterback Academy, has worked with Myers as a private quarterbacks coach. He outlined the areas Myers needs to be proficient when he makes his first start against a Power Five program.
Prepare for Penn State’s speed, and adjust to the timing. “The speed is going to be a couple ticks faster than what Matt just saw against Robert Morris,” said Kubiak, who is am NFL contributor to The News. “He has to make quick decisions.”
Protect the football. In analyzing NFL data, Kubiak said teams that win the turnover ratio win a game 78 percent of the time. “If he protects the ball and plays fast with his reads, he’s going to have success,” Kubiak said. “Maybe more success than people give him credit for.”
Analyze what Penn State’s defense gives you, and take it. “Every defense gives you something,” Kubiak said. “Zone, Cover-3, Cover-2, man-to-man. Be aware and take what they give you. With young quarterbacks, you get keyed up and you think you need to make a play. But you have to take what the defense gives you, and if Matt can play with that kind of efficiency, preparation and belief, he will tear it up against anybody.”
UB’s offensive aptitude doesn’t hinge just on Myers. UB’s offensive line — one of its most experienced units – needs to protect its quarterback and its running backs, who accounted for 285 yards rushing on 47 carries against Robert Morris.
“We weren’t passing as much and the times Matt did pass, he made some good passes," said Evin Ksiezarczyk, UB’s starting left tackle. "Being a freshman, he had some good command, and I think he’s going to keep growing, from there.
“If we can block up front, I’m confident in our running backs, that they’ll be able to carry the ball, find holes and get gains here and there. That’s all we have to do. Don’t make things complicated. Make things simple. Do what we can do.”
Myers also ran for 47 yards and a touchdown on four carries against Robert Morris.
UB is also incorporating run-pass options into its offense this season and Myers has the option, on each of those plays, to hand off the ball or throw it, based on where he sees an unblocked defender. The offensive line blocks the defenders each player is assigned to, and receivers run assigned routes.
“Some guys are more acclimated to making those kinds of throws, and Matt moves so well for a big guy,” Kubiak said. “As they’re running a running play and he keys in on a defender, he has the raw strength and the accuracy, and the ability to move, and to put the ball into places that someone who may be less physical may not be able to do.
“He can hand the ball off, he can read or throw off the RPO, or he can run it and take the distance.”