Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at Beaver Stadium, State College
TV/Radio: Fox29; WPHT-AM (1210), WNPV-AM (1440)
Records: Buffalo 1-0; Penn State 1-0
Coaches: Lance Leipold (fifth season, 24-27); Penn State, James Franklin (sixth season, 46-21).
Series: Penn State leads 2-1.
With Penn State pouring 79 points last week on Idaho, there wasn’t much urgency for wide receiver KJ Hamler to play much. He did get nine touches – four catches, four punt returns, one rush – good for 159 all-purpose yards. He averaged 28.8 yards per reception and scored two touchdowns through the air.
However, with the level of competition rising weekly up to the start of Big Ten competition in three weeks, the Nittany Lions need to find ways for Hamler to be deeply involved in the offense and on special teams without wearing him out too much.
“Obviously without giving away too much to future opponents, we have to take a good game plan and then make sure week by week that a special football player is touching the ball and then that we can find different ways to move him to get him to touch it,” wide receivers coach Gerad Parker said this week.
It looked like a misprint on the statistics sheet after Saturday’s game: 1 of 8 on third-down conversions for Penn State. Seriously? The Nittany Lions’ third-down troubles against an outclassed opponent were puzzling, especially since they averaged 8.2 yards per play.
The Lions had an awful drought last year during a five-game stretch beginning with the Ohio State loss and ending in defeat at Michigan, when they were successful on just 24 percent (17 of 71) of their third downs.
Head coach James Franklin said then, and he said so again Tuesday, that the ideal situation is to get “most of your first downs on first and second down and never be on third down.
“On third down, for us to be the team we want to be, we need to be right around 50%,” he said. “That will put us as one of the top third down units in the country. It’ll create more scoring opportunities for us and it’ll keep our defense off the field, and keep those guys fresh.”
Redshirt sophomore C.J. Thorpe, part of Penn State’s three-guard rotation, received his first career start last Saturday. Franklin said he loves Thorpe’s attitude and not-so-nice demeanor.
Franklin talked this week about how the Lions defense “could not stand” Thorpe in preseason camp, that he caused “fights in practice every single day.” On Saturday, the defensive players reveled in Thorpe’s style against an opponent.
“That’s what I tried to explain to them all camp – we need that,” he said. “We need that mentality – a gentleman and a scholar off the field, and a guy that’s on the field when the ball is snapped till the whistle blows that’s going to play with an edge.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Myers made his first career start last week for Buffalo but didn’t show much. The Bulls rushed on 47 of their 57 offensive plays in a 38-10 win over Robert Morris, with Myers carrying four times for 47 yards and a touchdown. He completed five of 10 passes for 69 yards and two scores.
The question was whether head coach Lance Leipold wanted to simplify things for Myers in his first start or whether there was no need to pass since the running game was clicking. But things will be a whole lot different for Myers in front of 100,000-plus at Beaver Stadium.