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Penn State pulls away from Buffalo 27-14

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‎Penn State‬ pulled away in the fourth quarter as the Nittany Lions won their first game of the year with a 27-14 win over Buffalo in a rain-soaked Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

STATE COLLEGE - Christian Hackenburg’s blue and white Penn State uniform looked clean and fresh after the game on Saturday -- a major improvement from his destroyed, sacked up suit in Penn State's loss to Temple last week.

In Penn State’s 27-14 rainy and muggy home opener victory against the University of Buffalo at Beaver Stadium, quarterback Hackenburg avoided a single sack in the full 60 minutes of play time.

“We protected our quarterback, moved the pocket, ran the ball,” head coach James Franklin said. “Our defense had some momentum changing plays with sacks and interceptions and turnovers. I thought at times we started to create an identity on offense and defense.”

Despite the cloudy and somber conditions, the Nittany Lions had full fan support from a some-what packed student section from the 93,065 people in attendance at Beaver Stadium. The Happy Valley atmosphere helped the team surge forward offensively against the Bulls using a variety of standout players.

True freshman Saquon Barkley rushed 12 for 115 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career and the most yards rushed by a true freshman since Silas Redd in 2010.

Barkley also had the most notable, “SportsCenter Top 10” worthy play of the game when he managed to grab the handoff from Hackenburg and hurdle over a diving Bull, aiming for a tackle at his ankles. Barkley jumped right over the attempt and received a loud and enveloping cheer from the crowd.

“It’s funny, before Saquon got here, he used to hurdle people all the time in high school and he said “I’m not going to do that in college,”’ Franklin said of his running back. “And I said that doesn’t make sense to me because in high school it’s illegal to hurdle people and it’s legal in college. I’m glad that he brought that back out of his bag of tricks.”

Adding freshman Brandon Polk’s 22 yard rushing touchdown late in the second quarter, this was the first time two true freshmen scored touchdowns in a single game since 2005.

After a first half of football in which the Lions (1-1) led the Bulls (1-1) by 10-0, using running back Akeel Lynch for 46 rushing yards at the half, Penn State completed the second half by allowing two touchdowns to Buffalo, displaying a still-improving D-line.

Although the difference between this week’s defense and last week’s against Temple is a complete 180, the squad still has a lot to work on regarding its blocks and punting.

“A win is a win,” senior Jordan Lucas said. “We got a win against a good Buffalo team. We’ll celebrate this for a few hours then move onto Rutgers.”

The Lions’ first spark of the game came from DeAndre Thompkins’ 58 yard return where he brought the ball to Penn State’s 30 yard line towards the culmination of the first half. The play that followed was Polk’s 22 yard touchdown, the first of his career.

Defensive tackle Austin Johnson also had a first against the Bulls -- a career-high nine tackles along with a sack of Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata.

“I think Austin is a guy that does his job,” Franklin said. “There’s times when he flashes and makes momentum changing plays and there’s times when he goes unnoticed.”

Offensively, Hackenburg completed 14-of-27 passes for 128 yards. He appeared poised and in control of his O-line, holding the Lions to a level of confidence the team so keenly needed.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we made improvements,” Franklin said. “I felt like guys made plays that they should make. I thought considering the weather conditions that were out there, we played a style of game that we needed to play.”

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