STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Now, the University at Buffalo football team must be resilient.
The Bulls have no choice but to move forward, in the aftermath of a 45-13 drubbing Saturday at No. 15 Penn State. They play at Liberty in six days, an environment that’s less of a crucible than Beaver Stadium but will likely provide its own circus with head coach Hugh Freeze and whatever medical apparatus he uses as he leads the Flames this week.
Any spectacles aside, the Bulls (1-1) can’t focus on what’s around them. Now, they have to focus on what they did wrong in the second half of the loss at Penn State. They need to regroup after playing a team that exposed their flaws, particularly in the second half.
“We talked about this team creating its identity this year, and that this would be a huge measuring stick for us in this year,” UB coach Lance Leipold said. “We know, coming into a situation like this, that adversity was going to happen, in some capacity. How are we going to react?
“We were doing enough (in the first half), and I’ll leave it there.”
UB’s 10-7 lead at halftime against the Nittany Lions provided the Bulls plenty of optimism.
“We moved the ball,” said running back Jaret Patterson, whose team outgained Penn State 270-82 in the first half, and held the ball for 21 minutes, 28 seconds. “We were running the ball. The second half, we had them on the ropes. We scored at halftime and had the momentum and felt like we could stick with it.”
Instead, Penn State scored 38 points in the second half, with four touchdowns in the third quarter.
The first, a go-ahead pick-six by Penn State cornerback John Reid, came after Reid blazed out of the backfield and grabbed Matt Myers' pass out of the reach of UB wide receiver Antonio Nunn. Reid didn’t stop running until he got to the end zone, two minutes into the second half.
Reid might as well have pulled the thread that began the unraveling of the Bulls.
“They capitalized on one mistake we made, and that’s what it was,” UB safety Joey Banks said. “All we had to do was come back and answer.
“It was, alright, now we’ve got to lock in, stop them, and so forth. But the game, a pick-six is a big momentum shift in a game. They just capitalized on it. They capitalized on our minor mistakes and in games like this, you can’t make small mistakes."
Of the three Bulls who met with the media after the loss, only Patterson elaborated on any of the shortcomings that Penn State exposed in the second half.
“We came out at halftime and got into bad situations,” said Patterson, who finished with 71 yards on 23 carries, including 51 yards in the first half. “Third-and-long, which changed the game.
“The first half, it was like, third-and-medium, and we were just picking them up."
The Bulls had seven third-and-long situations that they couldn’t convert in the second half; they were 1 for 5 in the third quarter and 0 for 2 in the fourth. After going 7-for-12 on third-down conversions in the first half, they went 3 for 10 in the second half.
The Bulls managed 98 of their 184 rushing yards in the second half, but Myers and his receivers couldn’t find the same rhythm in the second, after the interception by Reid.
“The minor mistakes, they really capitalized on that," said Myers. "I don’t think the score reflects how the game went or how the guys fought.”
Myers threw for 184 yards and a touchdown on 11 of 17 passing in the first half, and finished 16-for-31 passing for 245 yards overall.
Yet for a team that was mightily drubbed in the second half, the Bulls didn’t waste time showing their desire to bounce back.
“It’s just another game,” Banks said of the loss at Penn State. “We’re going to correct the things we’ve got to correct.”
It’s vital the Bulls show those fixes Saturday at Liberty.
“Sometimes, when you lose, you can learn a lot,” Patterson said. “I’m really excited to get back to practice and back to work.”
UB punter Evan Finegan is scheduled to have surgery Sunday after breaking his tibia and fibula, he wrote on Twitter early Sunday morning. Finegan had to be taken off the field on a cart after he was hit and upended by Penn State’s Journey Brown, as Brown attempted to defend on the punt late in the third quarter.
"I am so blessed to be able to have my parents and brother here to comfort while in this time of need. This injury is nothing but another mountain to climb. As it is said in Psalms 56:3, “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”