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4 TAKEAWAYS FROM UB's 34-7 WIN @ UMASS
With Toledo (and Ohio!) looming, the Bulls complete a successful business trip.
Image from masslive.com
Saturday was one of those days that make college football season great.1 While the University at Buffalo football team did not participate in one of the day’s more memorable contests, the Bulls (4-3, 3-0 in Mid-American Conference play) got the job done: UB returned to campus with a 34-7 victory over UMass (1-6).
Buffalo can now get down to more important business, namely preparing for a visit from MAC West Division-leading Toledo this weekend and the start of weeknight MACtion on Nov. 1 against MAC East rival Ohio.
But first, let’s review some notes from this non-conference win over the Minutemen, the Bulls’ fourth in a row after an 0-3 start to the season.
It was a dominant defensive performance as the Bulls held the Minutemen to only 220 yards of total offense. The offense was keyed by big plays en route to rolling up 480 yards of total offense.
The Bulls jumped out to a 10-0 lead thanks to an Alex McNulty 39-yard field goal and a four-yard pass from Cole Snyder to Quian Williams. Buffalo extended its lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter when Al-Jay Henderson ripped off a career-long 84-yard touchdown run.
After the Minutemen scored to cut the lead to 17-7, Justin Marshall quieted the UMass threat by hauling in a 49-yard touchdown catch with 5:07 left in the second quarter to put the Bulls back up by 17.
All the scoring in the second half went the way of UB. McNulty drilled his second 39-yard field goal of the game in the third quarter and Cole Harrity capped the scoring with his first career touchdown catch as a Bull – a 27-yard reception from Snyder in the fourth.
UB's defensive line was the difference in the game. The Bulls registered 15 tackles for loss and four sacks on the afternoon. Defensive end Ibrahim Kante had five tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Jaylon Bass had six tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss and fellow defensive tackle Daymond Williams had three tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss.
Snyder had his second three-touchdown passing performance of the season. He finished 20-31 for 277 yards and three touchdowns. He connected with 10 different receivers, led by Jamari Gassett who had four catches for 85 yards.
Power Trip: 4 Takeaways from the Win Over UMass
Image from @LovinOnBuffalo
From Boston to the Berkshires, autumn in Massachusetts in majestic. Several UB alumni made the trip to the other Amherst this weekend for the game; safe to presume from this photo that neither the game nor the foliage disappointed. Thanks for sharing!
1. The Defensive Line Is Improving Exponentially.
In the first three games of the 2022 season, Buffalo’s defense gave up 589 rushing yards—an average of 196.3 yards per contest and 6.1 yards per carry.
To put that in context, only 13 teams in the country allow that many yards per game and only two—Colorado and Louisiana Tech, who have three wins between them—allow that many yards per carry.
Over the past four games, however, the Bulls are allowing just 122 rushing yards per game. The per-carry average is down to 4.2 yards. After giving up seven rushing touchdown in the first three weeks of the season, they’ve surrendered just five since.
To use the national example, 122 rushing yards per game would place UB at 37th in Division 1 football, and the 4.2 yards per carry average would rank 47th.
The development from bad to better is driven by the defensive line. UB’s front four dominated this game, combining for 8.5 tackles for losses and four sacks. UMass, a team essentially incapable of passing the ball, was held to 112 rushing yards on 2.7 yards per carry.
Two of the sacks came from edge rusher Ibrahim Kante, who continues his personal growth as a fifth-year senior transfer from North Carolina State. He’s a sack away from matching his single-season high.
Tackle Daymond Williams had three solo tackles and an athletic, chase-down sack that left UMass quarterback Garrett Dzuro crushed on the home sideline.
Fellow run-stuffers George Wolo, Daishon Folsom, and Jaylon Bass teamed up for 14 tackles and and 2.5 tackles for losses. Edge rusher C.J. Bazile had a tackle for a loss, and lineman Daishon Folsom assisted on three tackles.
This is not a happy accident. Head coach Maurice Linguist discussed the process of constant improvement in his weekly press conference last Tuesday:
Sometimes, in leadership, you have to re-emphasize things, make an adjustment, make a change. What I love is the maturity of our guys to take those corrections throughout the week, apply them on the practice field, and let those practice reps become our game reality — they have done a phenomenal job with that.
Being able to set the edges. Plug gaps the way we need to plug gaps. Play over the top, and then play square and fundamentally sound on all three levels of the defense, all (while) tying in our rush and coverage, and our blitz game.
We really feel there’s a sense of confidence that’s growing. We just have to stay in the mental sweet spot of improving. How can you get better? That’s the area you want to remain in, and our guys have done a really good job with that.
A Storm is Coming
With that in mind, it’s not time to start slapping each other’s backs just yet. This unit will have its biggest test of the season when Toledo comes to town—the Rockets ran for 227 yards against Kent State on Saturday, including 87 rushing yards from quarterback Dequan Finn. Finn, a runner-up for CFPA National Player of the Week, also threw for six touchdowns on 16-of-22 passing for 263 yards.
2. Jamari Gassett Activation Mode Continues
Four targets, four receptions, two explosive plays, 85 yards. Sophomore Jamari Gassett now has nearly as many receiving yards (269) in seven games as he did in nine games as a freshman (270).
On a day when the UB offense was fairly vanilla—you’re not emptying out the playbook against UMass, especially with Toledo and Ohio next up on the docket—Gassett was a splash of color, catching 44-yard and 39-yard deep tosses.
Jamari is averaging 12.2 yards per catch, and has three explosive plays—receptions of 20+ yards—in his past four games.
More impressively, he has 21 catches on 26 targets. Gassett still looks to be scratching the surface of his potential. One of these weeks, offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery is going to figure out to unleash this young man—and it’s going to be game over for some unlucky defensive backs.
3. Speaking of Explosive Plays…
Image from masslive.com
Linguist discussed this throughout the early part of the season—particularly when it still plaguing Buffalo—but the Bulls have dramatically improved their ability to produce explosive plays on offense and limit such plays on defense.
The UB offense is currently 61st in plays of 10+ yards (96 so far this season), a nice jump from 84th a year ago when the Buffalo attack was basically Dylan McDuffie and a cloud of dust.
Defensively, the Bulls are 96th in allowing plays going 10+ yards—they’ve surrendered 100 in seven games—which is a dramatic step in the right direction, considering any play that got past linebacker James Patterson in 2021 was a potential touchdown. UB was among the worst in Division 1 at plays of 30+ yards.
After the 38-26 loss to Coastal Carolina on Sept. 17, Buffalo was 123rd in plays of 10+ yards allowed. Since that loss—in which the Bulls gave up 13 pass plays of 20+ yards or run plays of 10+ yards—the defense has allowed 31 total explosive plays in four games, or 7.8 per game.
The 10 that UB gave up at UMass was two-thirds as many explosive plays that defense gave up (15) since the 10:38 mark of the third quarter vs. Eastern Michigan, three full games ago.
Since that same point in the EMU game, Buffalo’s given up just 34 points, and zero points any of the past four fourth quarters.
4. We’ve found ourselves a punter?
Here’s what we wrote about Anthony Venneri before the season:
An export from Hamilton, Ontario, Venneri was “Mr. Everything” at St. Thomas More High School. “The kicker/punter prospect out of Steeltown might be the most under the radar signing of this class, but he may also end up being the biggest steal for the Bulls,” according to Canada Football Chat. “Venneri spent his high school career playing for top-ranked St. Thomas More, who went on an unprecedented winning streak that saw them hold onto the number one spot in Canada for three straight seasons during Venneri’s time with the Knights. While kicking might not have always been a factor in a lot of their wins, it was always a highlight when he stepped on the field, averaging 45 yards per punt this past season—including a 75 yarder—and he also took care of field goal and kickoff duties. On top of his role as special teams ace, he also lined up at linebacker and running back, making him a key cog in the Knights machine during his high school career.”
This guy may turn out to be the Bulls’ secret weapon. Venneri had three punts and averaged over 50 yards per kick against UMass. Since taking over the full-time duties three games ago, the big freshman has been a steadying presence on fourth downs—he’s averaging 44.8 yards per punt and, most importantly, has yet to bobble a snap or blast a punt into a diving opponent’s hands or gut.
It’s a huge relief, considering UB’s kick and punt coverage has been…spotty. Buffalo is currently 116th in kick coverage, allowing over 24 yards per return, and 119th in punt coverage (14.12 yards per return).
Perhaps Coach Mo should take a play out of Nick Saban’s book, in which Alabama’s stars are out covering kicks:
The fact that the best players participate on special teams makes the unit so lethal. After all, how many upperclassmen running backs with 1,000-yard seasons do you find playing on punt coverage? Harris does. Henry, who won the Heisman, did too. Even AJ McCarron, who might be the most decorated quarterback in school history, was the holder on field goal kicks his entire career.
Regardless, after the punting roller coaster of the past season-and-a-half, it feels like the role is in good hands again.
MAC Recap, Week 7: Things Are Getting Real
Action from this weekend:
Central Michigan 28, Akron 21. The Chippewas (2-5, 1-2) keep their slim hopes for a bowl appearance and even slimmer hopes for a MAC West title alive with a come-from-behind win over hapless Akron (1-6, 0-3). No Lew Nichols III, no problem for CMU: backup RB Marion Lukes finished with 249 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns.
Bowling Green 17, Miami 13. Wow. BGSU (3-4, 2-1) may have saved it’s coach’s job, it’s shot at a bowl game, a chance at the MAC East title, and it’s season in general with one huge win. On the flip side, Miami (3-4, 1-2), considered a challenger for the MAC crown, saw its own dreams of a MAC East pennant and a shot at the conference championship take a huge hit. This one was all defense: a week after UB dropped 38 on the Falcons, Scot Loeffler’s bunch tightened up and held the RedHawks to under 200 yards of total offense.
Ball State 25, UConn 21. All the W’s count the same in the final tally, so there’s no shame when the Cardinals (4-3, 3-1) need a fourth quarter rally to beat the lowly Huskies (3-5, 1-4) in a non-conference matchup. Carson Steele ran for 179 yards and three touchdowns to pace BSU.
Toledo 52, Kent State 31. Seriously, even knowing how this game ended, go watch it. It’s worth your time. Dequan Finn is an absolute beast. His numbers — which include six passing TDs in the win — don’t do justice in terms of how dominant he was in this game. It’ll be a treat and a nightmare to see him and the Rockets (5-2, 3-0) in Buffalo next week. As for Kent State (2-5, 1-2) — it’s a tough climb the rest of the way for the Golden Flashes, who get a breather against Akron next week but then face Miami, Ball State and Bowling Green.
Ohio 33, Western Michigan 14. The Bobcats (4-3, 2-1) are sneaky good—for a team ranked 113th in ESPN’s FPI (Buffalo is ranked 87th). It helps that WMU is 118th in offense and 73rd in defense in the country.
Great games all day long—from #5 Michigan’s 41-17 win over #10 Penn State; undefeated #9 Ole Miss’ 48-34 drubbing of Auburn; the epic, goalpost-dismantling, “Dixieland Delight”-co-opting 52-49 victory by #6 Tennessee over #3 Alabama in Knoxville; the #18 Syracuse win over #15 North Carolina State in front of a raucous Central New York crowd; the doomed (but valiant) comeback by #19 Kansas in its 52-42 loss to desperate Oklahoma in Norman; a crazy 24-21 win by #22 Texas over Iowa State that came down to one of the worst drops you’ll ever see; #20 Utah making a bad day for L.A. sports fans worse with a one-point win over #7 Southern Cal; Stanford shocking Notre Dame, 16-14, in South Bend; #22 Kentucky finding a way to clip #16 Mississippi State; and LSU (and former Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly) takes out Florida in an entertaining 42-35 road win. Then there’s our own big games in the Mid-American Conference: Miami stumbling at Bowling Green, Northern Illinois curb-stomping Eastern Michigan, Ohio outgunning Western Michigan, and, the grandaddy of them all, Toledo falling three touchdowns behind Kent State before putting on the afterburners and torching the Golden Flashes, 52-31. Oh, and how about former Bull Kyle Vantrease throwing for a school-record 578 yards to help Georgia Southern upset #25 James Madison?