STATE COLLEGE – Penn State cornerback John Reid admits he wasn’t fully comfortable last season during his return to football after sitting out the previous year with an injury.
As the season progressed, so did his confidence.
Now a senior, Reid finally feels he’s 100 percent.
Reid’s 36-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter not only gave Penn State its first lead in nearly two quarters, but it also served as the emotional spark that powered the Nittany Lions to a 45-13 win Saturday night at Beaver Stadium.
“It was a huge play from a momentum perspective,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “He’s a guy who everybody respects based on just how he goes about his business all the time in every aspect of his life. The sideline reacts to him because they feel so strongly about him. I couldn’t be happier for John.”
The interception was Reid’s second in as many weeks, and behind it, Penn State outscored Buffalo 38-3 in the second half.
After lying dormant for the first 30 minutes, Penn State’s offense scored on four consecutive drives following Reid’s interception.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford tossed touchdown strikes of 28 and 23 yards to tight end Pat Freiermuth, receiver Jahan Dotson caught a 56-yard touchdown and running back Noah Cain rushed for a 2-yard touchdown during the flurry of offense.
Buffalo for two quarters overwhelmed Penn State with powerful offensive line play and ball control strategy that resulted in the Nittany Lions possessing the ball for just 8:32 in the first half. The Bulls held the football for 21:28 through the first two quarters.
Earlier in the week, Franklin praised Buffalo’s veteran offensive line, calling it “physical” during his weekly press conference. It lived up to Franklin’s billing for the first two quarters.
After throwing just 10 times last week against Robert Morris, Buffalo again opted for a run-heavy approach that netted positive early results.
Buffalo’s third drive of the game stretched seven plays and the Bulls drove down to Penn State’s 33-yard line after a 42-yard pass and catch from quarterback Matt Myers to receiver Antonio Nunn. A penalty, however, set the Bulls back, and they missed a 50-yard field goal to end the drive.
Just one possession later, Buffalo again ran at the teeth of Penn State’s defense. Buffalo carried the football 14 times – throwing just four times – on a 19-play drive that spanned 61 yards and shaved 8:34 off the clock. Buffalo kicked a 33-yard field goal to cut its deficit to 7-3.
“They did a great job on first down, which made manageable second and third downs for them which I think is a huge part of the game when you talk about time of possession and things like that,” Franklin said.
Myers threw a 5-yard touchdown to tight end Julien Bourrassa with 14 seconds remaining in the first half to cap a 10-play, 96-yard drive that gave the Bulls a 10-7 lead at halftime.
Penn State earned just 23 yards rushing on 12 carries in the first half and gained only four first down. Buffalo carried 86 yards rushing and 12 first downs into halftime.
The Nittany Lions run game failed to produce, but the passing attack picked up from last week. Clifford impressed in just his second college start. He distributed passes to four receivers and picked up yards on the ground when called for. He finished with 282 yards passing with four touchdowns to go with a team-high 52 yards rushing.
“Sean’s able to make plays with his mind, he’s able to make plays with his arm,” Franklin said. And tonight, he made plays with his feet, as well.”
While receiver KJ Hamler was Clifford’s outlet of choice last week, Freiermuth was the recipient of eight Clifford passes on Saturday. Freiermuth left last week’s game against Idaho in the second quarter after taking a hit to the head but appeared to be just fine against Buffalo. He tallied 99 yards and two touchdowns.
“(Pat) played really well,” Franklin said. “I think he played really well in game one. For us, I think it’s very important offensively that we get KJ Hamler involved and we get Pat Freiermuth involved. Those guys need to touch the ball as much as they possibly can.”
Hamler hauled in three catches for 63 yards.
The Nittany Lions gained 78 yards rushing – 58 from Clifford – and averaged 3.2 yards per rush.
“I didn’t think we were finishing blocks,” Franklin said his team’s run production. “I think (Buffalo) was also very committed to stopping the run with their cover four defense that they play.”
Penn State linebacker Cam Brown missed the start last week against Idaho after drawing a targeting penalty in the Citrus Bowl. He took the field in the first quarter against Buffalo and forced and recovered a fumble in the first quarter that set up a 28-yard touchdown pass from Clifford to Dotson.
“I thought it was great having Cam back,” Franklin said. “I thought he flew around the field and was extremely active. He continues to make plays.”