Penn State Threw It Back to 2016 In Buffalo Win

By Matthew Filipovits on September 9, 2019 at 9:30 am
Sep 7, 2019; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) looks to throw a pass during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bulls at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you've heard this one before; the Penn State offense used a series of big plays to win after a sluggish first half.

It's a formula the Nittany Lions perfected during their magical Big Ten title run back in 2016 and had seemingly gone away from since.

On Saturday night though, the offense proved that blueprint can still work with Ricky Rahne and Sean Clifford leading the way.

To find out how we got here, we first need to start with Lance Leipold's gameplan. The six-time Divison-III national champion did exactly what overmatched teams do to keep games close–control the clock. Leipold's strategy worked to perfection as the Nittany Lion offense was on the field for under 17 and a half minutes and ran just 47 plays. Two of those plays were kneel-downs so we won't count them, which leaves the Nittany Lions at 45 actual plays run, with 19 of them coming in the first half. Outside of Jahan Dotson's 28-yard touchdown, nothing was working as the offense tried to get into a rhythm.

Jahan Dotson
Jahan Dotson put together a career night in the receiving game. (Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports)

In order to make a second-half comeback, the Nittany Lions needed to open their playbook in ways we had not seen since Trace McSorley was hitting Saquon Barkley on lethal wheel routes.

While John Reid's interception definitely helped set the tone, Sean Clifford's touchdown strike to Pat Freiermuth on the offense's first play of the half felt like the moment it all clicked. Joe Moorhead loved taking shots right after big plays, so going for the endzone right after a blocked punt was par for the course.

Penn State's next drive lasted just three plays, with Sean Clifford's 58-yard keeper serving as the catalyst. Like defenses often did with Barkley, the Buffalo defenders keyed in on the running back, allowing Clifford to run nearly untouched down the sideline.

The Nittany Lions followed that up with a five-play touchdown drive, with Pat Freiermuth channeling his inner Mike Gesicki with a stellar one-handed catch and run en route to his second touchdown of the half.

The next Penn State drive was their longest of the night, a whopping seven plays. It was KJ Hamler's contested 45-yard grab at the end of the third quarter that kickstarted it, much like the catch DaeSean Hamilton made towards the end of the third quarter in that 2016 Big Ten title game.

The offense ended the night with a 56-yard bomb from Clifford to Jahan Dotson down the sideline. It was the perfect ending to a throwback kind of night.

Although the Nittany Lions have drifted away from the homerun offense to a much more consistent and efficient style of play, it was great to see that the big-play ability remains after a short hiatus. This young offense needed to show it could win in ways it wasn't used to, and they answered the bell resoundingly.

With an offense as potentially potent as the Nittany Lions', you can bet other teams will follow the Buffalo model to try to contain the run game and force the Lions to beat them over the top. If that happens, Deep State is waiting for its next opportunity to shine.

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