Playing their final tune-up prior to the start of what will undoubtedly be a challenging Big Ten schedule, the 12th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions entertain the Buffalo Bulls this Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Turner Gill's Buffalo squad comes in with a record of 1-1, having dropped its season opener to Big East power Rutgers (38-3) before thumping fellow Mid- American Conference member Temple (42-7). The Bulls, who are facing their fifth straight ranked non-conference opponent, are making their first-ever trip to Happy Valley and this contest marks just the second meeting between the two schools all-time, the first being a 10-0 UB win way back in 1900.
Legendary coach Joe Paterno has his Nittany Lions off to a 2-0 start, having easily disposed of both Florida International (59-0) and Notre Dame (31-10) at home. The win over the Fighting Irish last week was particularly impressive when you consider the fact that Notre Dame whipped Penn State in South Bend last season, 41-17. Penn State has won five straight games and 24 of its last 29 overall. Under Paterno, the team is an eye-popping 37-1 against teams that currently call the MAC home. The Lions kick off their Big Ten slate against a struggling Michigan squad in Ann Arbor next week, the first of two straight they will play on the road.
Buffalo's easy win at Temple last weekend marked the team's most dominant road performance since making the leap to the major college football ranks back in 1999. The Bulls stampeded their way to 414 yards of total offense, 224 of which came on the ground. Sophomore RB Mario Henry battered the Owls for 125 yards and a TD on 17 carries, and he is averaging seven yards per carry through the first two games. Junior Drew Willy is UB's starter at QB and he is coming off a near-perfect performance in the win over the Owls, as he completed 20-of-22 passes for 190 yards, two TDs and one INT. His .909 completion percentage ranks as the third-best single-game effort in MAC history, and he is hitting 72.2 percent of his throws for 177.5 ypg on the season. The Bulls held a significant edge in time of possession, more than 10 minutes, and they converted 7-of-11 third down attempts in the game, truly a dominant performance from a team not typically regarded as overly explosive.
Defensively, Buffalo allowed just 141 total yards to Temple, including -36 yards rushing. The Owls had their wings clipped by a UB squad that got stellar individual efforts from several guys, notably senior LB Larry Hutchinson who logged eight tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Not bad for a guy who had just 10 tackles all of last season. The Bulls recorded five sacks on the day, spending almost as much time in the TU backfield as Owl running backs. Through two games, the Bulls are giving up 22.5 ppg and saw their average yield against the run on the season drop to 99.5 ypg. Kareem Byrom, Ollice Ervin and Adekun Akingba currently head the UB tackles list with 13 apiece, while Hutchinson is hot on their heels with 11. As stingy as the Bulls were against the Owls, putting forth a similar effort against a team as good as Penn State, in front of the largest crowd to ever watch a Buffalo squad play football, will be nearly impossible.
Although it's early in the season, the Penn State offense has been highly efficient in putting up 45 ppg behind 422 total ypg. Senior QB Anthony Morelli has hit the mark on just under 60 percent of his passes thus far, averaging 213 ypg with four TDs and just one INT. He wasn't asked to do much in the win over Notre Dame, throwing for just 131 yards and a score on 12 completions. Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams lead a talented wide receiving corps with a combined 14 grabs, with Norwood picking up 112 yards and a TD. The PSU ground attack is led by the duo of Austin Scott and Rodney Kinlaw. Scott has reached the end zone four times this year and is coming off a solid performance against the Irish as he matched his career-high with 116 rushing yards while scoring twice. Kinlaw carried nine times for 49 yards, averaging 5.4 ypc.
Led by All-America LB Dan Connor, the Penn State defense has been downright dominant through the first two games. The Nittany Lions are giving up just 5.0 ppg, although the defense has allowed just three points with the enemy's lone TD coming off a turnover. Connor, the latest in a long line of outstanding LBs at PSU, was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for his 12-tackle effort in the win over the Irish. He has amassed 17 tackles already and will surely be in the running for the Butkus Award by season's end. Fellow linebacker Sean Lee has made 11 stops thus far, while Lydell Sargeant is close to cracking the double-digit barrier, checking in with nine tackles. The Lions have 13 sacks through two games, an amazing stat to say the least, and they average 10 TFLs per game. Opposing teams have found absolutely no breathing room when it comes to rushing the football as the PSU defense has yielded a total of -3 yards rushing in two games.