Amid penalties and rain, UB Bulls fall 27-14 to Penn State in Happy Valley
Buffalo commits 14 penalties in loss
STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA - Many UB football fans were probably left wondering what could have been.
The Bulls squad played against perhaps their best opponent of the season in Penn State Saturday. At one point during the fourth quarter, they were a touchdown away from taking the lead. But then Penn State proved why it’s still a nation-wide football powerhouse and why Buffalo is still a growing program.
The Bulls (1-1) couldn’t hold down Penn State (1-1) as the Nittany Lions notched their first victory of the year, a 27-14 win on Saturday at a rainy Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. The Bulls played in front of an announced crowd of 93,065 in a stadium that holds over 100,000 people.
“We had an opportunity to win in the fourth quarter,” said Bulls head coach Lance Leipold. “But we gave up some big plays and didn’t make enough ourselves. The story of the game is too many penalties. It didn’t give us the chance that we needed in a game like this.”
The Bulls only trailed by three entering the start of the fourth quarter. But a few miscues and mental errors later, the Nittany Lions led by as many as 20 points with more than nine minutes to play in the game.
The Bulls were in multiple positions to take a lead throughout the day, but their inexperience and mental errors proved costly.
Buffalo committed 14 penalties for 107 yards during the game, many of which were pivotal turning points in its run toward the end zone.
In the first quarter, sophomore wide receiver Collin Lisa caught a quick slant and shred a defender off of him to pick up 16 yards and brought the Bulls to the Penn State 35-yard line. It seemed Buffalo was picking up steam, but back-to-back false start penalties halted the Bulls’ charge down field and ended up settling for a shanked 47-yard field goal attempt by freshman kicker Adam Mitcheson.
Leipold reassured it was mental mistakes that caused the penalties, but it had nothing to do with the level of the opposition.
“They didn’t play the helmets today,” Leipold said. “They played the guys in the helmets. That was the last thing I said to them before we got off the bus. They’ve done a lot to give themselves a tradition. We’re still building a tradition.”
The Buffalo defense, which had its fair share of holes entering the game, was effective throughout the matchup. There had been many question marks surrounding multiple parts of the unit, including the front four and the secondary in particular, but those were the units that stood out the most.
Buffalo limited touted Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg to 128 yards and one touchdown on 14 of 27 passing. Hackenberg is projected to be a first round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, according to multiple draft projections.
Quarterback Joe Licata had similar numbers and arguably a better overall game. Buffalo’s senior captain threw for 205 yards on 24 of 35 passing with two touchdowns and one interception. He has thrown a touchdown pass in 14 consecutive games.
“I think he’s a really good player,” Hackenberg said of Licata. “Even watching him a little bit in film session, I thought that he was a great player. He really has that team moving in the right direction. He made a lot of good plays today. I have a ton of respect for what he did today.”
The Bulls’ defense took many by surprise in the first 23 minutes of the game and looked like it was ready to compete with the high-profile team. But then came a reminder that the Bulls still have work to do.
Penn State scored its first touchdown with about seven minutes to play in the first half. After the Nittany Lions’ DeAndre Thompkins returned a punt for 58 yards, receiver Brandon Polk ran a sweep to the left side to score the game’s first touchdown virtually untouched.
Five plays later, the Nittany Lions were able to showcase their elusive front-seven and expose the holes of the young Buffalo O-line. Licata drew up a screen play, but Penn State deflected the ball and it ended up in the hands of Carl Nassib for an interception.
“They were very good,” Licata, who was sacked seven times Saturday, said of Penn State’s defensive line. “That’s probably an understatement. They were relentless. I watched them on tape all week and they get after guys. And they did that today.”
The play eventually set up a short field goal to put Penn State up 10 points before the half ended.
Buffalo features a young offensive line that did well against Albany, a Football Championship Subdivision team, but had different results Saturdays. Of the 14 penalties, half of them were false starts and three were cut blocks by the offensive line.
Leipold said cut blocks are a dirty play and said Buffalo does not practice chop blocking because “that’s not what we’re about.”
Freshman center James O’Hagan notes the unit could have done better, but also lauded the success and talent of Penn State.
“We had our moments today but overall, we could have done a lot better job than what we did,” O’Hagan said. “It’s not a matter of how well we did, but a matter of how well the team did. We could have done a better job, but the Nittany Lions are pretty good.”
With the loss, Buffalo has yet to defeat a Power 5 opponent or start a season 2-0 while in Division I, but there were a couple school records broken. Licata passed former Bulls quarterback Marty Barrett for third all-time in passing yards. Senior running back Anthone Taylor’s 93 yards propelled him to be the third Bull to run for more than 2,000 yards in a career. He joins NFL running backs Branden Oliver and James Starks as the only players on that list.
The Bulls will continue their season on the road when they travel to Florida Atlantic (0-2) next Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon.