Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's home opener against the Buffalo Bulls.
The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing.
The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and
of course provide their predictions (now in video, too).
Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
MH: In a word the 2015 PSU opener vs. Temple was a disaster. From the play-calling to the execution, it was a brutal affair for the Nittany Lions. Hopefully James Franklin and company have done some soul searching this week to find some genuine solutions, but I am not sure how PSU can elevate its game that quickly. We shall see
ND: After one of the worst losses in recent memory, players, coaches, fans and even former players have many questions about the direction of the program. Temple certainly executed on its game plan, but the Lions’ inability to adapt raises some serious concern for the season. The focus now shifts to the Bulls of Buffalo, who beat the University of Albany soundly last week. Coincidentally, Albany’s QB is DJ Crook, who backed up Christian Hackenberg last year before transferring to the New York school.
Who: Buffalo vs. Penn State
When: Saturday, Sept. 12, Noon (ET) kick
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
Series: Tied 1-1
Line: Penn State favored by 20 points
MH: Let’s take a closer look at where the Nittany Lions stand heading into their home-opener clash against Buffalo.
CALL OUT: I am not sure what the offensive strategy was going into the Temple game. The staff went relatively deep on only a handful of occasions, and while Brandon Polk’s jet sweep worked beautifully twice (and he looked great on both plays), the coaches went to the well one too many times on that play. Overall, you have to wonder what the Lion coaches were thinking with that game plan. They’ll need to find a more balanced attack somehow, and quickly.
GROUNDED OUT: In the preseason, I voiced some concerns about the run game, wondering what the reworked offensive line and Akeel Lynch could do. But aside from the early touchdown run vs.Temple and a couple of jet sweeps, the run game was inept. I am struggling with how the line could have seemingly regressed having four veterans back from last season. Paris Palmer certainly struggled, but giving up 10 sacks and one on a two-man rush? Talk about embarrassing. I have to think the line will perform better against Buffalo, but I may be kidding myself.
PASSING JUDGEMENT: While the O-line did him no favors, Christian Hackenberg continued to struggle with identifying pressure and reacting to it — other than to tuck the ball and dive to the ground. You’d figure, given that he’s a third-year starter that he’d be able to at least recognize a blitz or breakdown and try to get rid of the ball. He’s still panicking and forcing things, which seems to be good for an interception in most contests.
DEFENSIVE LOOK: Aside from some flashes of brilliance, I was surprised how well Temple handled Penn State’s defense, which was expected to be impressive. The secondary had a series of breakdowns on key drives. The injury to MLB Nyeem Wartman-White was a major loss, as the wheels seemed to come off the defensive bus once he was sidelined. They have to get back into the swing and get consistent and aggressive.
KICK OFF: While 259-pound K Joey Julius looks more like a lineman, he showed power on kickoffs and placement with his one 34-yard field goal attempt. Granted its one kick, but were scraping for bright spots here
ND: In this section, I will preview Buffalo.
CUP O’ JOE: A senior and three-year starter, Joe Licata runs the offense for the Bulls. He’s not a running threat, but he is very mobile and they like to roll him out and give him an opportunity to see the field and get away from pressure. The Bulls run a variety of looks, from the pistol to five wides to huddling but then going with tempo. The Bulls don’t use a ton of motion but they line up in every imaginable way.
SWIFT TAYLOR: RB Anthone Taylor is a key part of this offense and is a Doak Walker Watch List candidate. The Bulls look to establish the run and then use play action to keep defenses guessing. Taylor ran for more than 100 yards in the season opener. He is not a big back, standing 5-foot-10. But he does have a knack for falling forward and running over guys. The ability to wrap him up will dictate how successful the Lions are at stopping him.
RECEIVING PRAISE: Ron Willoughby is a savvy senior receiver. He is on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. In his first game thisyear, he had a few catches for 60 yards. His size will create problems, especially if the safeties are concerned about stopping Taylor or if Buffalo goes with a five-wide look forcing man coverage.
YOUNG CALVES: The Bulls only return five starters on defense and have several new faces. But linebacker Okezie Alozie is very active and is a playmaker. The coaches are also very confident in both of their corners —
Boise Ross and Marqus Baker. As challenged as Penn State’s offense is, it should have some success against this very young squad.
IN THE GRASS: Tyler Grassman is yet another award watch list candidate. He is up for the Ray Guy, which goes to the country’s best punter. Grassman averaged 40.7 yards per punt last year and buried two punts within the 20 just last week. Field position is critical for Penn State, so look for the Lions to try to get pressure on Grassman to avoid having to move down the entire length of the field.
KEYS TO THE GAME
MH: This game comes down to the PSU offensive line. If it can give Hackenberg some time and he can get remotely back to what he is capable of, PSU should be able to spread out the Buffalo defense and get some pressure off the run game. It’s time to see if Franklin is able to make adjustments and get his offense in a position to succeed.
ND: The blueprint has been set. Last year, the Lions struggled with delayed blitzes and stunts. Though Buffalo runs a 4-3 defense that is focused more on coverage and assignments than attacking the line of scrimmage, one has to assume that the Bulls watched film from the Temple game and saw the success that came from putting continual pressure on Hackenberg. The key is for the Lions to have a plan to address the pressure and move the football. PSU only has this week to get it sorted out before Rutgers comes to State College, and an anemic offense simply will not beat the Scarlet Knights
MH: While this should be an uneventful home opener for the Lions, Penn State’s situation has fans wondering what they will see. It comes down to the line play and play-calling. If John Donovan tosses out another inept plan, then all bets are off. I suspect we’ll see some improvement, but also continue to see some struggles.
Penn State 23, Buffalo 13
ND: On paper, this should be a very easy win for Penn State considering the youth of the Bulls’ defense. But PSU’s issues are mostly self-inflicted and that will continue to show this week. I look for the Lions to get out to a lead but never really pull away.
Penn State 24, Buffalo 13
Until next time.
Fight On State!