Penn State’s offense took the field with 11 seconds left in the first half on its own 20-yard line.
Sean Clifford collected the snap and took a knee.
That’s when the boos started raining down.
As the Penn State players took the long jog across the field from the north endzone to the south tunnel, the 104,136 fans in attendance on Saturday night showed their disapproval.
Penn State was losing 10-7 to Buffalo.
A game that was supposed to be an easy victory, another tune-up game for the Nittany Lions was all of a sudden a brewing upset.
Penn State was facing adversity. For the first time in 2019, this young Nittany Lions team had their backs against the wall, they needed to respond in order to save their season.
And that’s exactly what they did.
Penn State responded and they responded in a big way, outscoring Buffalo 38-3 in the second half en route to a 45-13 victory.
“We said we have to come out and finish every drive, finish every play and that was our mentality in the second half, and I think we accomplished that,” offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez said.
Penn State needed to switch its mindset.
The way the team came into the game mentally wasn’t good enough to win a college football game. The Nittany Lions weren’t executing, they weren’t finishing.
And because of this, the Nittany Lions faced their first adversity of the season, their first real challenge.
Penn State’s athleticism overwhelmed Idaho last weekend and because of that the little mistakes didn’t show up on the field.
But on Saturday against Buffalo, the mistakes were showing up.
The running lanes were closing quickly, the throwing windows were tighter, they weren’t able to break through the first tackle, the defensive line didn’t have a free pass into the backfield.
The question then at the half was: What this young team was going to do? Would the leaders step up and get them back on track or would a disastrous first half continue into the second?
“We were just trying to tell everyone, ‘hey we are good, everything is fine, we’re going to be okay’ and we just tried to stay positive, not worry about what happened in the first half and look forward to what we can improve on in the second half,” Gonzalez said.
And then a John Reid interception early in the third quarter set the tone for the rest of the game. The message was received in the locker room.
Penn State overcame the adversity, it passed the first test.
But by no means was James Franklin happy about the performance as he would like to see these adjustments happen quicker.
“I think we need to improve as a young team on being able to go to the sideline and get on the board, make the adjustments that we need to make to get things corrected and that’s what we were able to do in the second half,” Franklin said. “To me, that's the next step for us is making sure that our players understand that depending on opponents we aren’t going to be able to wait until halftime to make the corrections we need to make.
“We’ve got to make them as soon as possible.”
This statement should sound familiar.
In 2016, Penn State was known for its second half comebacks, for its deadly halftime adjustments, but this years team doesn’t want that identity.
“We can’t take any snaps for granted,” wide receiver Jahan Dotson said. “We just have to come out firing on all cylinders because when we play good teams it's going to come back to bite us.
“We have to come out from the start.”
And a big part of that is consistency.
The Nittany Lions need to have it on every play, not just a select few.
Penn State’s offense didn’t have a drive longer than 2:39 on Saturday. It relied on big, explosive plays to get the job done.
“Just overall, we did some good things but obviously we need to be more consistent by series, we need to be more consistent by quarter and that really is in all four phases,” Franklin said.
And according to Gonzalez, that’s not something thats built on Saturdays, it’s something that starts on Monday in practice.
“I just think it all starts with practice and obviously sometimes if you practice really well, even when you practice well in a game sometimes things happen, things might not go your way, so I just think we need to stay more focused and more locked into the game, just finish every play, just finish every drive, just take it one play at a time,” Gonzalez said.
At the end of the day, it was a successful mission for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions faced adversity and, while they didn’t overcome it as quick as they should’ve, it was a good first step.
It was a lesson, the first of many lessons Penn State is going to learn every time it takes the field this season.
But on Saturday, they were able to learn on the fly, learning the lesson in real time didn’t hurt them, but in the future it will.
“They are all lessons. How we practice, how we compete, being able to play with a lead, being able to play with a big lead and not let off,” Franklin said. “And there's lessons to be learned when you are playing a really good opponent and you don’t execute as well as you need to in the first half.
“We keep our composure, we keep our poise and do our jobs. There is lessons to be learned in the first game, there is lessons to be learned in this game,” Franklin continued. “We were able to do that and still get a W."
“We have a really good opponent next week and we have to take the next step.”