A funny thing happened on the way to another early season blowout. Instead of rolling over after falling behind 7-0, courtesy of a lost fumble, the Buffalo Bulls, led by a redshirt freshman quarterback, shrugged it off and continued to gash the Nittany Lions. Lance Leipold's team controlled the first half time of possession to the tune of over 21 minutes. If not for that early fumble, who knows if Penn State would have even been on the board.
It was a mess for the home team.
Then, with shades of 2016's Big Ten Championship season, the second half kicked off. A promising drive out of the break came to an abrupt end with a Ricky Slade fumble, but not even that could derail the Nittany Lions. John Reid's pick six, the first of his career, jumpstarted what would become a 38-3 second-half performance and a comfortable 32-point victory.
Sean Clifford was magnificent, tossing four touchdowns, and completing 16-of-22 passes for 279 yards. Those numbers would have been even better had KJ Hamler of all players not dropped a couple of perfectly thrown balls. Sophomore tight end Pat Freiermuth, quiet for much of the first half, caught eight balls for 99 yards, and a pair of touchdowns.
We have written extensively this summer about how this early-season schedule will allow a young Nittany Lion team to find their footing before the meat of the Big Ten schedule in October and beyond. While all involved from the Penn State side would have rather not dealt with it, the slow and sloppy start ought to provide James Franklin and his coaching staff quite a bit of ammunition when the team returns to the practice field to prepare for Pitt.
It was clear on Wednesday evening when the head coach met with the media after practice that there was a little too much comfort on his still growing team. There were several players going through additional conditioning work after the team wrapped for the evening. It's easy to say from the outside, but it's is not too hard for a bunch of college-aged players, many of them getting their first significant playing time, to feel a little too good about things after a 72-point opening victory.
The level of competition kicked up a notch with an extremely well-coached, and well prepared Buffalo squad. For 30 minutes, they had left little doubt who the better team was. But at no time, other than from the Beaver Stadium crowd, did it feel like there was much panic from the Nittany Lion sideline. As they did en route to the 2016 Big Ten title, the halftime break allowed the staff time to go through adjustments with their team, something Franklin has said is difficult with a young roster on the bench. It was a different team after the break.
Sure, racing out to a 38-3 halftime lead and coasting to the same 45-13 final score would have felt better for everyone. But the lessons taken from Saturday's victory are ones that should serve this team well as it heads into Pitt week, and the Big Ten schedule to come.