UB Bulls doom themselves with own hand against Penn State

Buffalo leaves Happy Valley with loss but a win was in its grasp

STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA – The Buffalo football team should feel better about itself than Penn State.

I’ll start by making that clear, despite the fact the Bulls are going home with a 27-14 loss and all of Happy Valley is celebrating a victory Saturday night, which is not in any way a surprise, of course. The surprise is how much Buffalo’s own mental mistakes, and not its lack of size or skill, factored into the loss.

Penalties, missed opportunities and a few questionable decisions were more of the difference in this game rather than Penn State being Penn State and Buffalo being Buffalo. The two didn’t look that different through the rain in Beaver Stadium Saturday. The Bulls could have won this game. This was a scoreless affair midway through the second quarter and a 13-7 one heading into the final quarter.

The Bulls committed 14 penalties for 107 yards. Yes, you read that right. Head coach Lance Leipold called it the “story of the game.” It felt like almost every time quarterback Joe Licata lined up to take a snap, a Buffalo offensive lineman had a false start penalty – there were seven of those. Not to mention a few chop blocks, three to be exact. When the Bulls started to gain some momentum, a penalty killed it.

If you’re the inferior team, you can’t commit penalties. That’s what Buffalo did Saturday.

The Bulls also allowed too many big plays that it didn’t have to allow. Outside of a 38-yard pass competition to receiver Chris Godwin, Penn State’s best highlights were a 58-yard kickoff and punt return and some end-around sweeps, one of which went for the Nittany Lions' first touchdown.

The coaches’ execution was off too. This may be the first time I question Leipold. The new head coach and offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki’s play calling today was overall pretty questionable. From a first quarter 47-yard field goal attempt in the rain – which missed – to some draws on third and long, it wasn’t their best day.

This was Leipold’s first loss since Oct. 27, 2012.

Yes, Buffalo should feel good about it’s 13-point loss to Penn State on paper – I went with the Nittany Lions beating the 19.5-point spread in our Spectrum predictions. They should feel better than Penn State after this game – the Nittany Lions don’t have all their issues figured out with a 27-14 victory over a Mid-Major. It’s just disappointing to feel like the Bulls, with a few less mistakes and of course, some lucky bounces, could have shocked the nation and walked out of Happy Valley with a win.

These are the kinds of things programs that want to be on the rise have to do.

Happy Valley is one of the epicenters of college football. Despite a disappointing 27-10 loss to Temple last week and a downpour Saturday, fans still packed Beaver Stadium 93,000 strong. The student section looked and sounded bigger than I’ve ever seen an entire UB Stadium crowd. This is a town that still immortalizes Joe Paterno with cardboard cutouts in hotel lobbies and bumper stickers on cars.

Beaver Stadium’s premium suites are three stories tall and a football field long in length. It’s a reminder that the nice first step of UB Stadium’s new Edmond J. Gicewicz Club is just that – a nice first step. After usually competing with about a handful of reporters for quotes after Buffalo games at UB Stadium, my colleagues and myself were shocked at the amount of media at Saturday’s game. I’m surprised Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg didn’t get claustrophobic with all those arms and recorders in his face. Penn State defines college football.

So how nice would it have been for lowly Buffalo, from the Mid-American Conference, to come into Beaver Stadium and give Penn State an 0-2 record? And at the very least put more of a scare into it than it did?

Leipold said Buffalo didn’t play the Penn State helmets – they played the guys inside them. He’s right. Between the loss to Temple and how long it took them to put away the Bulls, Penn State isn’t exactly Penn State right now. They’re still more talented in every way than Buffalo – Nittany Lion defensive lineman Carl Nassib looked like J.J. Watt against the Bulls’ O-line today – but winning still wasn’t an impossible task with the current state of Penn State.

If you had told me Friday that Buffalo would lose by 13 in Beaver Stadium, I would have thought my column would be a positive one. But instead I come away imaging what could have been. The Bulls should still feel good – these first two games have went better than I thought it would – but something special could have happened.

And that’s how you start to become big time.

Tom Dinki is the editor in chief and can be reached at tom.dinki@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tomdinki.