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10 PLAYERS, 10 STORIES ABOUT UB FOOTBALL THIS SEASON
UB football collected a 3rd postseason win in 4 years with its Camellia Bowl victory. Let's look at some of the key stars and unlikely heroes who helped get them there.
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It’s been a long ride, this 2022 college football season.
In three days, four months will have passed since the University at Buffalo football team opened its latest campaign in Maryland, dropping a 31-10 decision to the Terrapins in one of the better 21-point losses you’ll see.
In fact, the Bulls (7-6) lost their first three games before going on a 6-3 run to end the regular season, then capped the year with a 23-21 win over Georgia Southern in the Camellia Bowl on Tuesday afternoon.
Football’s a funny old game. At no point in 2022 did anyone have reason to suspect running back Tajay Ahmed would grind out nearly 100 rushing yards in a bowl game victory against Kyle Vantrease’s new team. The idea Dylan Powell and Tre Hines were out there making critical, nationally-televised postseason defensive plays would’ve seemed confusing at best.
If you told me UB would start the year with the losses and then lose three more games in November—one of which it led by double digits in the second half until a third-string quarterback ran for nearly 300 yards, another in which it had a two-score lead in the fourth quarter and a three-point lead in overtime—and beat lowly Akron by a single point, I would have assumed this season was ending like last season.
But here we are, and it feels so good.
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An undermanned Bulls squad had reserve players step up all day to help UB win its third bowl in program history. Players like Clevester Hines, who before this week was a wide receiver, was forced to start at cornerback and finished with seven tackles and three pass breakups. He helped the Bulls slow down a pass-happy, high-powered Georgia Southern offense. On the offensive side of the ball, running back Tajay Ahmed was pressed into action due to injuries and responded by rushing for a career-high 98 yards and a touchdown.
While several new faces stepped up, the usual old reliables paced the Bulls, especially early. Wide receiver Justin Marshall had 11 catches for 127 yards, both career highs, and scored UB's first touchdown of the game en route to being named the bowl's Most Valuable Player.
Marshall was the favorite target of quarterback Cole Snyder who threw for 265 yards and a score. He became just the third quarterback in program history to throw for 3,000 yards in a season. Snyder also connected with Quian Williams five times for 100 yards.
Early in the fourth quarter, Dylan Powell came up with his first career interception to set up UB at the Georgia Southern 40-yard line. The Bulls were able to drive down the field and McNulty hit a chip shot to extend the UB lead to nine. It was McNulty's third field goal of the game and 49th of his career, breaking the program's all-time record.
Linebacker Shaun Dolac led the UB defense with 13 tackles and added a forced fumble that was recovered by Jalen McNair to set up a UB field goal. Fellow linebacker James Patterson, making his 56th and final career start for the Bulls, had eight tackles, including a tackle for loss.
It was the third straight bowl win for the Bulls after winning the 2019 Bahamas Bowl and 2020 Camellia Bowl.
“We’re champions,” Head Coach Maurice Linguist told The Buffalo News. “We talked about being bowl champions at the beginning of the season. We talked about being bowl champions, back in January. Then, you fast-forward, 11 and a half months later, and that’s what we are. Nobody’s ever going to be able to take that away from these guys.”
10 Players, 10 Compelling Stories from the 2022 UB Football Season
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Way back in July, here’s what we wrote after eight months of down time:
Head Coach Maurice Linguist, true to his reputation, put together one of the top recruiting classes in the MAC.
Nine Bulls—linebacker James Patterson, defensive tackle Daymond Williams, wide receiver Quian Williams, offensive lineman Gabe Wallace, defensive end Max Michel, kick returner/running bck Ron Cook, defensive tackle George Wolo, safety Jahmin Muse, and kicker Alex McNulty—were named to the Athlon Sports Preseason All-MAC Team.
Seven players—including Patterson, Daymond and Quian Williams, Wallace, Michel, linebacker Sean Dolac, and offensive lineman Nick Hartnett—made Phil Steele’s Preseason All-MAC squad.
Yes, it hurts to lose 1,000-yard rusher Dylan McDuffie to Georgia Tech, but it’s tough to begrudge a young man making the leap to the ACC.
Since last October, UB has replaced the 15 three-star transfers it lost with 15 new three-star transfers. In many cases, the new three-star athletes—such as Jahmin Muse (Boston College), Caleb Offord (Notre Dame, #5 pictured above) and Solomon Brown (Minnesota), who replace current Buffalo Bills cornerback Ja’Marcus Ingram and transfers Aapri Washington and Cory Gross from last season’s gruesome secondary—feel like clear upgrades.
New faces meant hope. There was excitement around the unknown, the ability to dream about what could be.
With those dreams in mind, we published two summer posts with mini-bios of every player on the Buffalo roster at that time (here’s Part 1, and here’s Part 2).
Now—with a sweet Camellia Bowl trophy destined for a trophy case on North Campus—let’s look back at a collection of players and personalities who, in many cases, were mysteries.
Tajay Ahmed, Senior RB
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What we said: “More will be expected from Tajay, a Lockport, N.Y. walk-on who earned a scholarship this past spring, in 2022. He’s a former Niagara Gazette Player of the Year, a special teams cog, and while he’s only carried the ball seven times in his college career, he’s scored touchdowns on two of them.”
The results: Ahmed was firmly fourth on the depth chart behind Ron Cook, Jr., Mike Washington, and Al-Jay Henderson—so firm, in fact, that he had one carry for four yards during the regular season. He played in eight games and took 95 snaps as a member of a special teams unit whose 2023 tapes should be burnt and sprinkled with holy water. Ahmed, however, was called upon in the Camellia Bowl when Cook, Washington, and Henderson went down, and he delivered 98 rushing yards, a touchdown, and an epic third-down push late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
What we learned: Ahmed’s Camellia Bowl stats were workmanlike—27 runs and two catches, 115 total yards, a TD, and one explosive play (a run of 11 yards). Flashy? No, but man got the job done. If he does chose to return in 2023, Ahmed likely won’t be given any special consideration, especially with Cook (if he returns) and young backs like Washington, Henderson, Mark Anthony Scott, Caron Robinson, and newcomer Lamar Sperling on the roster. Shoot, the Bulls are pretty loaded in the backfield, no? Regardless, Tajay will always have his moment.
Elijah Blades, Grad. CB; Keyshawn Cobb, Junior Nickel Hybrid; Jahmin Muse, Grad. Safety
From left: Elijah Blades, Keyshawn Cobb, Jahmin Muse. Images from ubbulls.com.
Tall, long, athletic cornerback prospect with a terrific frame and a physical demeanor on the field. Long and lean with space to continue to add bulk. Despite height, slight of frame and must add some bulk to maximize strength at the next level. Considered the top JUCO cornerback prospect in the country. Shows toughness as a tackler and will provide the big hit when available. Impressive press coverage ability thanks to length, aggressiveness, and instincts. Very athletic. Light on his feet. Flashes impressive breaking athleticism and redirecting ability in coverage. Possesses turn-and-run ability to track receivers in the vertical passing game. At times sacrifices tackling technique while hunting for the big blow. Can get overly aggressive defending perimeter runs/screen game and get himself out of position. Athleticism and skills to contribute immediately at the high-major level. Should be a mid-round draft pick, but potential for early-round ceiling.
Even more help was on the way for the Blue and White, whose secondary allowed 11.75 yards per completion and was tied for second-to-last in D1 with just three interceptions in 2021.
For Cobb, we noted:
A former first-team All-Georgia selection, Keyshawn was also an All-American juco selection while at Northeast Mississippi Community College. A three-star talent, he’s certain to shore up UB’s rough secondary along with a bevy of other high-profile recruits.
And for Muse:
One of the first big transfers of the Bulls’ 2021-22 recruiting season, Jahmin will help anchor a completely rebuilt UB secondary. A product of Elizabeth (N.J.) High School—shoutout Max Michel—Jahmin was a key contributor at Boston College, where he snagged three interceptions in 2020. He also grabbed a pick-6 against Colgate last season. He looks to be fully recovered from a groin injury that limited him to eight games in 2021, and ready to grasp the leadership mantle Coach Linguist expects him to take.
The results: When Blades was (mostly) healthy in the first half of the season, he was a near-elite all-around corner ranked among the top 100 in the nation by Pro Football Focus. After injuries kept him out of Weeks Seven through 10, however, Blades’ stock fell. He finished the season rated just outside PFF.com’s top 25 percent of cornerbacks nationally. From a traditional statistical point of view, he had 27 tackles (22 solo) and defended four passes.
Cobb was an absolute revelation. His numbers—67 tackles, 1,5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception—were fine, but understate the impact he had on the defense. The Bulls played most downs without a true third linebacker, using Cobb as the hybrid who could drop into coverage, stuff the run, or rush the quarterback on any given down. He handled the role masterfully, grading out as an highly-rated pass rusher and run defender while playing at least 53 snaps in every game except for the UMass blowout.
If Muse wasn’t leaving, he had all the makings of a legend. A philosopher king from the Jersey side of NYC seasoned by life at one of the nation’s elite private colleges and a tenacious defender to boot, Muse had the most dominant season of his career in Buffalo.
Jah was the 52nd-rated safety in the FBS, according to PFF.com, and ranked third in MAC safeties behind Toledo’s tandem of Nate Bauer and Zachary Ford (whom Muse helped UB beat, 34-27, by scooping and scoring the eventual game-winning TD on Cobb’s forced fumble). Let’s hope the Bills draft this guy.
What we learned: Muse, Cobb, and Blades brought a level of competence and camaraderie to a unit desperately needing both after a brutal 2021. There was never any doubt, however, that the three were using Buffalo as a stepping stone.
Blades was a nomad who’d worn out welcomes at two SEC schools, and Muse was a budding star at Boston College before injuries derailed his time on Chestnut Hill. Both are off to try the NFL.
Cobb, who has offers from West Virginia and UNLV, among others, since entering the transfer portal, successfully used his experience with the Bulls to keep climbing the ladder.
Hey, that’s college football in the 21st century. If we’re being honest, it’s how Coach Mo got a four-star player, a juco star, and a Power 5 starter to come here. I’ll take the tradeoff. UB’s program is in a better place because of these three players.
Ron Cook, Senior RB
Image from ubbulls.com
What we said: “If you watched Buffalo football last season, you’re familiar with Ron. A Washington, D.C. recruit, he’s one of the MAC’s top return men, a third-team All-MAC selection for the second consecutive season while averaging 21 yards per kickoff return. He’s also a dangerous change-of-pace player on offense, racing his way to 672 total yards and four touchdowns out of the backfield.”
The results: The feature back for much of the season, Cook had a slow start (108 rushing yards in his first three games) but made up for it with top-notch performances against Eastern Michigan (119 total yards), Bowling Green (107 total yards, two touchdowns), and Toledo (158 total yards and a touchdown)—all wins. If Chippewas QB Burt Emanuel, Jr. hadn’t gone God mode in the second half of the Central Michigan loss, we’d be talking about Cook’s 139 total yards-and-a-touchdown output there, as well. Ron missed the final three games with injury.
What we learned: Still don’t love the idea of squeezing Cook between meaty interior linemen several times a game, but the 5’9, 190-pound cinder block proved, in the right circumstances, he could bowl through the thickest conditions. He ended the year with 600 rushing yards. An effective receiver, Ron picked up 207 yards through the air en route a career-high 807 total yards and also tossed one crazy pass completion to Cole Snyder. Cook scored four touchdowns.
Shaun Dolac, Junior LB
Image from ubbulls.com
What we said: “Shaun is a Phil Steele Preseason All-MAC defender (fourth team), the latest accomplishment for a West Seneca East alum and a former Buffalo News High School Player of the Year. A former walk-on, he collected 37 tackles, six tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 2021. What’s next for the former Trojan (WSE, not USC)? We’re excited to see.”
The results: What a season! Dolac had 97 solo tackles—tops in the FBS, 15 more than second-leading solo tackler Cedric Gray of North Carolina—a school record. He was second in the nation in total tackles with 147. Shaun was a finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, an award given to the country’s most outstanding former walk-on (Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett was the 2022 winner), and received a 1st-Team All-Mid-American Conference nod. Along with linebacking mate James Patterson, Dolac collected 1st-Team All-MAC honors from legendary college football writer Phil Steele.
What we learned: We’ll let Bulls defensive coordinator Brandon Bailey take this one, via The Buffalo News:
It’s the way he does things, every single day. He is the poster child for what happens when you do your job and you do it the right way, if something's extremely important to you, and you pay attention to details, then good things happen and you have a lot of success…
He's got a nose for the ball. He consistently finds himself around the ball. First of all, our scheme is not the reason Shaun Dolac leads the nation in tackles. But his execution of our scheme and in the spot he plays gives him a chance to make a lot of plays, and he makes those plays.
Marcus Fuqua, Junior Safety
Image from ubbulls.com
What we said: “Marcus recorded 59 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and three pass breakups as part of Buffalo’s distressed secondary last season. Here’s what I like about Marcus, though—he likes to hit, and he hits hard. You can teach scheme, you can’t teach aggression. The two-star out of Southfield, Michigan will have to fight for playing time this season with an influx of defensive backfield talent, and that could be just what he needs to step up.”
The results: You could call seven interceptions—tied for first in the FBS—and a 3rd-team All-American nod stepping up.
What we learned: Without further slandering specific players more than necessary, it’s now clear this Nagurski Award semifinalist was often working alongside overmatched cornerbacks in 2021. As a result, we too many times saw the back of Fuqua’s #10 as receivers made monster catches, or as backs breezed around the edge to shockingly long touchdown runs, because someone else blew an assignment. Once Fuqua was paired with a reasonable amount of talent in the secondary—guys who wanted to wear the uniform—he blossomed into a star.
Clevester Hines, Junior WR/DB
What we said: “Another of the exiting wide receivers in the Buffalo program, Tre is a three-star player who put up 585 yards on 44 catches over two seasons for juco College of San Mateo. He also threw for nearly 1,800 yards and rushed for another 1,000 while collecting 25 touchdowns as a senior at Dublin (California) High School.”
The results: Absolutely fascinating. Tre appeared in four regular season games, catching two passes for 24 yards (both against Eastern Michigan). Something of a forgotten man, he was called into service in the defensive backfield when, following the season-ending win over Akron, DBs Elijah Blades, Isaiah King, and Jah Muse declared for the NFL Draft while Keyshawn Cobb and Jibrahn Claude entered the transfer portal. As the tweet above notes, he played a strong game—seven tackles and three pass break-ups (and he should’ve had an interception! A Kyle Vantrease literally hit him in the hands. We’ll let it slide).
What we learned: Have faith not only in Coach Mo’s ability to find skilled athletes but also to develop defensive backs. UB may well have two key contributors in the secondary next season—Hines and Vanderbilt transfer James Ziglor III—who transitioned from offense to defense under the tutelage of Linguist, a former safety at Baylor and a coach who built his reputation developing DBs.
Justin Marshall, Grad. WR
Image from ubbulls.com
What we said: “A three-star prospect from Conyers, Georgia and a top-300 prospect on the Class of 2017, Justin posted 544 receiving yards in 20 games over the past three seasons with a rebuilding Louisville squad. His top performance in 2021 was a three-reception, 66-yard performance in a Cardinals loss to North Carolina State. He’ll be a versatile addition to the Buffalo air corps—in an interview with SI.com in 2020, he described himself to Matthew McGavic (of the U of L Report) as a jack of all trades. ‘I feel like I bring more size and speed to the big picture. With my play style I can run short routes, I can run intermediate, I can run deep routes, I can block, I can do anything you need me to do. I feel like I can help (Louisville) win a lot of ball games.’ We’re hoping the same for UB.”
The results: Marshall’s 11 receptions in the Camellia Bowl tied him for ninth in school history with most receptions in a game (the three players tied for first—James Starks, Antonio Nunn, and Chaz Ahmed—each had 13). His 64 receptions this season landed him at eighth in the UB record book alongside Brett Hamlin and teammate Quian Williams.
Justin finished the season with 837 total receiving yards and nine touchdowns, and was clearly first-year quarterback Cole Snyder’s favorite target. He threw nasty stiff arms, provided strong run blocking, and made his share of huge grabs—his touchdowns against Holy Cross, Miami, Akron, and Georgia Southern leap to mind. Marshall earned the MVP award in the Camellia Bowl courtesy of an 11-catch, 127-yard, one touchdown performance.
Marshall will likely try his hand at the next level, but we are certainly glad he made a stop in Amherst.
What we learned: We’re not pro scouts, but the way Marshall high-points a football and rips it away from defenders looks NFL-ready. Awesome to see that kind of raw talent up close.
We also learned that players like Marshall and Muse—transfers from big-time programs or, in their cases, ACC programs—don’t need to be soulless mercenaries making an extended-stay business trip in the Northtowns. Marshall, in his time here, was a Bull. He will remain a Bull from this day forward.
Alex McNulty, Senior K
Image from ubbulls.com
What we said: “Alex has made his mark on Buffalo—he’s the first kicker to make 100 consecutive extra points in program history, he set a school record last season with a 55-yard field goal in the Bulls’ OT loss to the eventual MAC champ, and he drilled a game-winner as time expired against Ohio. He can be a bit of a roller coaster—Alex was 13-for-21 last season, and had a handful of ugly misses—but he’s got intestinal fortitude. A former walk-on, an excellent student, and a genuinely thoughtful guy, he’ll eventually leave UB a better place than when he arrived.”
The results: We’ll eat bad pasta and drink watered-down highballs while McNulty’s inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame someday. When he banged through his third field goal of the Camellia Bowl, Alex set the school record for career FGs made with 49. A 1st-Team All-MAC special-teamer, McNulty drilled three kicks of 50+ yards this season and built on his Buffalo marks of most career extra points and most points scored by a kicker.
He also improved his season-over-season field goal percentage by over 23 points—from 61.9% to 85.7%—despite attempting 25 percent more kicks.
What we learned: I went to the Maryland game this season and sat in the press box next to a kid who wrote for—I want to say Bleacher Report?—and we were watching McNulty boom long-range field goals in practice.
“Is he any good?” the kid asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “except when he’s not.”
“So your typical kicker,” the kid deadpanned. I liked that kid.
While true of McNulty in years past. He made the leap this season, though, and like a professional golfer, manipulated the ball consistently, reliably, and (most important) repeatably. PFF.com had McNulty ranked eighth in the country, just ahead of far-more-famous Michigan kicker Jake Moody. Alex deserves the looks he’s going to get from the NFL.
Dylan Powell, Grad. Safety
Image from pressherald.com
What we said: “Another recruit from St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, Maryland—Vincent Pallotti is the patron saint of the Pontifical Missionary Union of Clergy, but he should be the patron saint of UB recruiting.2 Dylan’s played in 13 games over the past three seasons, recording 24 tackles.”
The results: Prior to the Camellia Bowl, Powell—who recorded 20 tackles in 2021—had assisted on a single lonely tackle in 2022. He appeared in 10 regular season games with a mere ripple of an impact, courtesy of a revamped secondary that included multiple Power 5 transfers and three-star recruits and a special teams unit for whom tackling was not a forte.
When the time came, however, Dylan did what every coach prays his players will do: he rose to the occasion. Playing 28 snaps in the Camellia Bowl thanks to a badly depleted secondary—that’s 10 snaps more than he saw in any game this season—Powell made a tackle, was targeted once and, on that target, picked off the pass. His coverage grade was the third-highest of any Bull in the game.
What we learned: There’s been talk on social media and message boards that players, over the past two seasons, have “quit” of Linguist. First, transfers aren’t quitters; we don’t have to like it as fans, but these men now have the agency to look for better situations for their specific skillsets. And why not? If I don’t like the biology program at my school, I can go find someplace else to slice open dead frogs.
Second, Powell belies this kind of talk—he stuck around, bought in, and when the time came, he was ready. Good for him, and good for Linguist, who’s built a culture of core guys that includes the players who aren’t logging dozens of snaps each game.
Cole Snyder, Junior QB
Image from ubbulls.com
What we said: “A transfer from Rutgers and a native of Jamestown, N.Y.—home of Lucille Ball, Natalie Merchant, and that creepy statue of the lady in a bridal dress in Lake View Cemetery—Cole may be the Bulls’ next starting quarterback. He appeared in nine games over three seasons for the Scarlet Knights, throwing for 165 yards and a touchdown.
“He talked to Rutgers Wire about the reasons why he chose UB:
Picking a school really came down to three things: it came down to an academic fit, a football fit, and a cultural fit. I mean, and in those boxes there’s other things that need to be checked off within those [boxes], but Buffalo really checked all my boxes and I didn’t see any red flags. …I really liked the people there, the players, the coaches. And one of the biggest things was the culture that they have, especially like playing on a team that was in a rebuild and (Rutgers) coach (Greg) Schiano coming in and laying a foundational culture. And I got to see how that changed Rutgers football for the good. And that was important to me when finding my next school. …They told me nothing’s gonna be given to me. But I will have an opportunity to compete. So that’s what I was looking for.
The results: Snyder won a three-way offseason battle for starting quarterback and subsequently ran hot and cold for next four months.
When he was good, he was very good (for example, his 20-for-29 performance with 297 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns vs. Eastern Michigan).
When he was bad, he was a problem (his three-game stretch against Toledo, Ohio, and Central Michigan saw his pressure-to-sack rate skyrocket, his turnovers increase, and the offense grind to a halt in one surprising win and two mind-numbing losses).
Was this in some part to an offensive line that struggled mightily itself? Probably, and to Cole’s credit, he never brought it up as an excuse.
The bottom lines:
Snyder ended the season with 3,030 passing yards, just the third player in UB history to hit the 3,000-yard mark. Even legendary Buffalo QB Joe Licata, the Bulls’ career leader in passing yards, never quite got there.
Snyder’s 18 touchdowns tie him for fifth among UB’s single-season leaders, and his 460 attempts are second-most in a single UB campaign.
Cole came in and won seven games and a bowl trophy, earned victories in the Miami, Akron, and Georgia Southern games with his arm, and showed definite proof that his clutch gene is evolving.
Does he need to improve his completion percentage (55.8%)? Yes.
Do his coaches need to put a better o-line in front of him, and call plays that exploit his strengths on a more regular basis? Absolutely.
In the end, it wasn’t a perfect homecoming. It rarely is! Snyder clearly landed on the better side of good, however, more often than not, and it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise.
What we learned: We learned Snyder’s a killer, first of all. Not only did he win the starting job, he cleared out the quarterback room—since Snyder committed to Buffalo last November, Bulls QBs Kyle Vantrease, Trevor Byczinski, Matt Myers, Casey Case, and Brian Plummer have all left the program. Freshman signal-caller Mike DePillo is the last man standing.
This is not to suggest Linguist and company won’t have an eye on the position this offseason, but it’s a testament to Snyder’s competitiveness. He came in, won the job, and held on tight through an up-and-down season. There was never any serious talk about replacing him, even with an experienced vet like Matt Myers ready to step in.
We also learned Snyder still has a lot of work to do. His decision-making, pocket sense, and arm strength all need to get better. Frankly, Cole looks like he could stand to get bigger. He’s listed as 6’2, 208 pounds, but might be able to pack a bit more bulk on that frame.
Speaking of physical attributes, Snyder did show balls of steel, an intense hunger to win, a willingness to get absolutely walloped at times, and the tools to throw for over 3,000 yards and win an FBS bowl game as a legit work in progress.
What will next year bring?
We can’t wait to find out.
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Kind of cheated on this one by including three players, but these offseason additions felt intrinsically connected—the grown-ups brought in to fix a broken secondary.
The Patterson brothers (Jaret and James), among others, were recruited out of SVP.