STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The Penn State defense couldn’t get off the field Saturday night against Buffalo, and the Nittany Lions offense couldn’t get on the field.
This didn’t start out as it was going to be an easy game for the Lions, certainly not on the level of Idaho. The Bulls proved that in the first half when they controlled the football, running 46 plays to 20 for Penn State and outgaining their hosts 270 yards to 82. The frustrated fans showered the Lions with boos as they headed to the South tunnel trailing, 10-7.
But John Reid’s 36-yard interception return turned the frowns upside down and touched off a 28-point explosion that helped carry the 15th-ranked Nittany Lions (2-0) to a 45-13 victory over the Bulls (1-1) on a pleasant evening enjoyed by a crowd of 104,136 at Beaver Stadium.
The shot of momentum from Reid, who starred at St. Joseph’s Prep, was desperately needed.
“It got us going,” linebacker Cam Brown said. “He got everybody rolling, got the guys hyped. We were already pretty upbeat. But after that, you can’t ask for much more.”
Reid said he saw a similar route from the Bulls earlier and broke on it a little too late. He said he felt they would come back to the pattern in a third-and-six.
“I knew to drive it and keep my eyes on my man and look back for the ball,” he said.
“It was definitely important just to change the momentum of the game. As a corner, you know if you do your job throughout the game, you’re going to have one of those plays where you can make a play on the ball. I’m just glad I was able to do that.”
Quarterback Sean Clifford engineered three touchdown drives the rest of the quarter, needing one, three and five plays to cross the goal line. He found tight end Pat Freiermuth with touchdown passes of 23 and 28 yards, and freshman Noah Cain carried it in from two yards out.
Clifford also threw scoring strikes of 28 and 56 yards to Jahan Dotson. For the game, he completed 16-of-22 passes for 279 yards, with 220 of them coming after halftime.
Clifford said he wasn’t frustrated with the first half, when Penn State held the ball for just 8 minutes, 32 seconds.
“That’s just part of the game,” he said. “Some things aren’t going to go your way, and that’s why football is such a great game. You fight through adversity, whether that be them giving you a different look or a bad first half, which we had. I think we learned a lot about our team and how we’re going to battle this year. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Even though the Nittany Lions scored 38 points in the second half, they held the ball for less than nine minutes. The Bulls outgained Penn State in yards, 429-357, and nearly doubled them in number of plays (90-46). Buffalo had four drives of 10 plays or more and possessed the ball for at least 10 minutes in every quarter.
“We’ve got to be more consistent on offense, and on defense we’ve got to get off the field,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “I thought we were able to make some explosive plays, but I thought that the inconsistency stayed there. We just became more explosive in the second half.
“We had a lot of big-play touchdowns, drives which in some ways put our defense in a tough spot because they had to go right back on the field. So we’ve just got to be more consistent.”
The Lions were particularly inconsistent in the running game, picking up just 78 yards after going for 331 yards last week against Idaho. Thanks to a 58-yard run, Clifford was the team’s leading rusher with 51 yards in 11 carries. Journey Brown was next with 28 in six carries.