STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – There was much more to learn from Penn State’s second game of the 2019 season than from that three-plus-hour, 79-point frolic a week earlier, and that mostly involved the young and talented -- but inexperienced -- players on the Nittany Lions.
Yes, they can make plays. Redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford threw four touchdown passes, three in a 28-point third quarter Saturday night that led the Lions to a 45-13 victory over Buffalo. Sophomores -- wide receiver Jahan Dotson and tight end Pat Freiermuth -- each caught a pair of TDs. Sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons made 10 tackles, two for losses.
However, when things go haywire, as they did in the Bulls’ dominant first half, the 15th-ranked Lions have to be able to make adjustments on the fly. Head coach James Franklin said they had to wait until halftime to make the vital adjustments, to be able to spell out everything that needed to be done.
Once the tough games begin, however, waiting is not an option.
“We need to be able to go to the sideline, get on the board and make the adjustments that we need to make to get things corrected,” Franklin said. “To me, that is the next step for us, to make sure that our players understand, depending on opponents, we’re not going to be able to wait until the halftime to make the corrections that we need to make. We need to make them as soon as possible.”
The defense could not get off the field. Buffalo held the advantage in total plays (90-46) and yards (439-357). Penn State held the ball for just 17 minutes, 28 seconds, which was its lowest time of possession since “at least 1993,” according to a team spokesperson.
“Obviously we had a lot to correct about how we came out in the first half,” senior safety Garrett Taylor said. “I think we came out a little slow and quiet. But we came into that locker room and guys were making sure everyone was keeping their heads up. Our coaches made great adjustments and we came out in the second half and executed.”
The biggest play of the game came from the defense. Former St. Joseph’s Prep star John Reid turned the game around early in the second half with a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown, sparking Penn State’s third-quarter explosion.
Offensively, the Nittany Lions were inconsistent, unable to get anything going in the running game. Clifford galloped for 58 yards to set up a third-quarter score but the team’s four running backs, who looked so impressive in Week 1, managed just 39 yards in 11 carries.
Clifford turned it on in the second half, completing 10 of 14 passes for 220 yards, an average of 15.9 yards per attempt. His third-quarter touchdown passes covered 23 and 28 yards to Freiermuth, and 56 yards to Dotson. He also hit KJ Hamler for 45.
Clifford called it “unacceptable” that he didn’t score on his long run, and that he felt he could have put more points on the board. But he said he wasn’t frustrated, noting “that’s just part of the game."
“You fight through adversity, whether that be them giving you a different look or a bad first half, which we had,” he said. “I think that we learned a lot about our team and how we’re going to battle this year. I’m really proud of our guys.”
It gets a lot harder Saturday when Pittsburgh comes to Happy Valley for the 100th -- and probably last for a while -- game in the intrastate rivalry. Franklin would like to see the team’s consistency improve.