Clifford's 4 TDs lead No. 15 Penn State over Buffalo 45-13

Penn State running back Journey Brown (4) tips a punt by Buffalo punter Evan Finegan (40) during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Finegan was injured on the play and carted off the field.

Buffalo outgained Penn State Saturday night, outgained it on the ground by a lot, had more first downs, two-and-a-half times as much time of possession, and ran 90 plays to Penn State’s 46.

And lost by 32 points.

That ought to be impossible. It ought to be disconcerting for Nittany Nation.

On the other hand, consider this, from the archives:

“The Nittany Lions still aren’t a real good football team. They were out-run, out-passed and outgained by 137 yards by the (opponent), who had more first downs, fewer turnovers (zero), ran more plays and had more possession time (by nearly 15 minutes).’’

I wrote that after Penn State beat Ohio State in 2016.

“(Opponent) finished with more rushing yards, more passing yards, more first downs, and eight third-down conversions that seemed like 80.”

That was also in ‘16, when the Lions trailed in the fourth quarter at Indiana and ended up winning by 14.

Five weeks into the ‘16 season, Penn State’s point differential was minus-38 in the first halves of its five games, but plus-26 in the second halves. Franklin suggested his staff has been able to make adjustments at halftime that a more veteran team might be able to make on the fly, during games.

“I think as the season goes on, you're going to see these guys continue to play with more confidence, be able to make adjustments without having to wait until halftime,’’ he said.

Which is almost word-for-word what he said Saturday night, after Penn State lost the first half 10-7, and won the second, 38-3.

Amusingly, the week after Franklin said those words, in ‘16, I wrote that Penn State, “can see its way out of this season with at least respectability and very possibly more.’’

The 2016 team won the Big Ten title and was in the conversation for a berth in the national championship playoff.

This isn’t the same thing, of course. Buffalo and Ohio State are connected only by the Rust Belt. The Lions ran away from the Bulls Saturday mostly by attrition, by throwing bodies at a sharp, well-coached team and wearing it out. Obviously, that won’t work against the people Penn State must beat to go where it wants to go.

We’ve heard a lot about the speed on this roster, but Mid-American Conference receivers were able to get behind the Penn State secondary Saturday. Four blue-chip running backs combined for 38 yards. A dozen long, athletic, elite defensive linemen weren’t able to push Buffalo around. You can’t hide these truths in October and November.

The comparison is 2016 is more stylistic. Penn State under Franklin - and perhaps more importantly, in Joe Moorhead’s swing-for-the-fences offense - has shown a strange and persistent ability to win games it doesn’t, on a snap-for-snap basis, control.

Three-and-outs, time of possession, field position, moving the chains, controlling the ball, third-down efficiency, …. none of those things seem to hold much currency in the Franklin Administration, even if Franklin himself isn’t especially happy about it.

The Lions’ touchdowns Saturday night were on plays of 28, 23, 28 and 56 yards, plus one set up by a 58-yard run and a 36-yard interception return. They came on “drives,’’ of five, four, three, two, one and zero plays.

Is this a real, sustainable thing? Don’t know, but it’s not a new thing.

The 2019 Nittany Lions aren’t nearly as good as the ‘16 edition became. But they’re better than the ‘16 team was on Sept. 7.