Penn State Football: Five Things To Watch As The Nittany Lions Take On Buffalo
Penn State takes the field Saturday night for an evening tune-up meeting with Buffalo that ought to serve as a much better test than a Week 1 blowout of Idaho. Buffalo will almost certainly leave State College without a victory, but the Nittany Lions won't be winning by 72 points for the second straight week.
Then again, nobody expected that against Idaho either.
Nevertheless, Buffalo ought to provide Penn State with a good opportunity to work on various strengths and weaknesses prior to next week's meeting with Pitt. From there the schedule will head into Big Ten play and the easy weeks will be few and far between.
With that said, here is what to keep an eye on this Saturday as Penn State looks to go 2-0 on the year.
While the Nittany Lions shouldn't win by 72 points, it will be interesting to see if they can back up a Week 1 blowout with a similarly impressive performance. That doesn't mean winning by a massive margin, but if they can churn out good looking drives, quality touchdowns and solid defense, that'll go to show last Saturday wasn't simply the result of a poor opponent. The question really being asked here is a simple one: Does the Idaho game look like the start of a trend or simply Penn State stomping on a significantly worse team? Buffalo will start to answer that question. Pitt and Maryland will help finalize the early season trend.
Out The Gates:
Generally speaking I don't put much stock in the first two drives of the season because they are the first two drives of the season. That being said, can Penn State come out of the gates a bit better? They did move the ball and settle for a field goal so it's not as though the bar is very low, but any sort of improvement there will be a positive. In the end scoring quickly isn't going to determine this game, but it's the general principle that is important here not so much the urgency.
No Band Aids:
As per usual, getting out of these games without any big injuries is always a plus. Pat Freiermuth took a decent knock to the head last Saturday but was seen practicing earlier this week, a bullet dodged on that front. Injuries are part of the game, but if you're Penn State you hate to see them at all, let alone in a game you were going to win 99% of the time anyway. This isn't rocket science, and in the end it's hard to access the absence of something, but no injuries are always a good thing, even if you can't see something that doesn't' happen.
These games are often the best times to form good habits, can Penn State avoid the silly mistakes? Can Sean Clifford avoid a fumble on an exchange with his running back? Can punt returners get a good eye on the ball and not muff a return? Can they avoid penalties and turnovers, drops and the like? A lot like injuries it's hard to see something that doesn't happen, but Penn State wants to be able to get to the end of the game like this and not say "Everything was great BUT." If James Franklin and his staff can do that, the final score will be less important than a younger team improving its habits.
If two games can showcase the good, two games worth of data can highlight the bad. It's hard to find anything to nitpick about in Penn State's opening win, but can you say the same thing about Week 2? Technically Penn State only converted on third down once against Idaho, albeit there were a lot of different personnel that went into that state, even so, is it better this week? If it's not, maybe jot that down. Penn State knows what it can do, but has it figure out its weaknesses yet? Buffalo won't highlight all of them, but the more data you get this time year the quicker this team's identity begins to take shape.