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BABY BULLS HELP BUFFALO THRASH AKRON
The future is now for UB's top young talent, and it arrived at exactly the right moment: the MAC East stretch run.
Image from GoZips.com
Call it the Rubber City Cotillion, because Buffalo held a coming out party in Akron on Saturday.
It finally happened: the Bulls (4-4 overall, 2-2 in Mid-American Conference play) clicked on both sides of the ball, grinding the Zips (2-6, 1-3) into a fine paste courtesy of a six-touchdown outburst over the second and third quarters en route to a 45-10 road win.
It’s UB’s second consecutive MAC win, and easily its most complete performance of the season. It also allows Buffalo to keep pace with MAC East co-leaders Miami (Ohio) and Kent State, who each moved to 3-1 with wins over conference rivals Ball State and Bowling Green, respectively.
The Bulls will face BGSU (2-6, 0-4) in what appears to be a very winnable home game next weekend.
"We really challenged our guys all week about putting together 60 minutes of our best football," UB head coach Maurice Linguist told UBBulls.com. "I was proud of the way we had fought back the last two weeks, but we knew if we wanted to get to the next level as a program we needed to play a complete game and we felt like our guys did that across the board today."
The (Healthy) Stars Showed Up…
Taking the field without veteran stars DE Taylor Riggins and RB Kevin Marks, Buffalo filled the gaps with some familiar faces:
On defense, fifth-year safety E.J. Brown led the team with eight total tackles. LB James Patterson had five total tackles, including two for losses and a sack. DE Max Michel had a sack and forced a fumble he returned for 21 yards, setting up the Bulls’ first TD.
QB Kyle Vantrease, playing eight miles from his hometown of Stow, Ohio, completed 75% of his passes, threw for 241 yards, and connected on three passing TDs while rushing for another 25 yards and a TD. He targeted nine different receivers, and connected with eight.
RB Dylan McDuffie, officially the workhorse of UB’s increasingly dangerous run game, ran for 111 yards and a TD on 23 carries. He also aught a four-yard pass for a score.
McDuffie’s ascension makes one wonder if Marks would consider calling it a career after missing two straight games with a lower body injury. There’s not much left for the fifth-year senior to prove at Buffalo.
He’s a bludgeoning runner—could you fault him for saving his body for a shot at the NFL?
Linguist told Rachel Lenzi of The Buffalo News he hopes Marks will be back next week. After a memorable four years, I wouldn’t blame Marks if he made a business decision. The same goes for the injury-prone Riggins, whose absence allowed others to rise, as we shall see below.
…And the Youngsters Showed Out
It’s great to see the old heads maintain the form that took the Bulls to bowl games in each of the past three years. Even more exciting is the emergence of young talent to patch some of the weak spots that doomed UB in previous contests.
Let’s take a look at the fresh faces who made an impact this weekend:
WR Jamari Gassett (and friends)
Often referred to as the fastest player on the team, the 5’10, 171-lb. freshman burner from Tampa, Florida was slowly incorporated into the offense this season until breaking out against the Zips.
Gassett caught four passes for 95 yards and a TD, and ran once for eight yards. He’s going to be a handful in games, and seasons, to come.
Gassett wasn’t the only receiver to get emerge in Saturday’s win. Redshirt fifth-year senior WR Dominic Johnson isn’t new, by a long shot, but Vantrease has struggled to get him the ball this season; yesterday, he connected with Johnson three times for 42 yards and a TD.
Junior WR Bernard Porter, who caught three passes for 30 yards through seven games this season, had a 41-yard catch.
TE Tyler Stephens continues to be relevant to the offense, catching three balls for 16 yards.
Even freshman WR Khamran Laborn, the other contender for fastest man on the roster, ran once for five yards. It’s nice just to see him on the field.
While WR Quian Williams only caught three balls for 18 yards, dropping him to fourth in the MAC in receiving yards (597), it’s a relief to see Vantrease spread it around rather than forcing passes to the Eastern Michigan grad transfer over and over again.
DE Kyler Laing
The man with the serenity prayer tattooed on his left arm is one of the most excitable players on the field, and the energy Laing brings to the snaps he’s received in the absence of Riggins is contagious. Laing, a 6’1. 236-lb. Tallahassee, Florida product, had five tackles, three tackles for loss, and two sacks as a redshirt freshman last season. He recorded five tackles and three and a half sacks against Akron on Saturday. It’s the most sacks in a single game by any UB player in the school’s 22-year FBS era.
RB Mike Washington
Yes, he lost a fumble. Yes, all 10 of his carries (his first action since the season opener against Wagner) came in the fourth quarter, with the game firmly in hand. But still—Washington, a 6’2. 216-lb. freshman from Utica, grossed 56 yards on 10 carries (he netted 44 total rushing yards because, well, the fumble) and helped kill the clock while keeping McDuffie and Cook out of harm’s way.
The UB Defense
These guys. who’ve been beat up this season by THE MEDIA (looks in mirror), finally put together a complete performance. Things looked sketchy for a few moments in the second quarter when gaping holes appeared with unsettling regularity in the middle of the scheme. No worries: for the second week in a row, Linguist and defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen made mid-game adjustments sorely lacking in losses to Western Michigan and Kent State.
“Coach Cauthen (is) setting the tone and putting the plan in place,” Linguist told The Buffalo News, “and bringing the plan alive in terms of how we’re going to systematically put ourselves in position to win.”
Look at the young men doing work on this defense:
Michel, a junior, was dominant before he was injured and forced to leave the game (he’s being evaluated today).
Laing, a sophomore, posted a Riggins-like performance.
Fellow junior Daymond Williams had two sacks.
Sophomore LB Shaun Dolac, a West Seneca product, posted one and a half sacks.
Second-year safety Marcus Fuqua struggles in coverage at times but no one doubts his ability to lay someone out. He recorded seven total tackles.
Sophomore DT Daishon Folsom (another Florida recruit) had three tackles and a sack.
There are several impact veterans on this defense (senior LB Kadofi Wright had an INT; senior DB Aapri Washington had five tackles and a sack), but these youngsters were sorely needed to step up. Looks like they are.
Side note: Buffalo had 11 sacks against Akron, a program record.
The Bulls completely eliminated Zips QB Zach Gibson, who’d thrown for six TDs in Akron’s last two games, holding him to two completions and nine passing yards.
UB also did a nice job limiting the Zips’ dual threat QB, D.J. Irons, who entered the game averaging 214 yards of total offense and two TDs per game, to 120 combined rushing and passing yards and two turnovers. Irons also took 10 of the 11 sacks. Mobile QBs had been Buffalo killers, but the defense was able to lock Irons up.
The Bulls’ Offensive Line
As of today, UB is 29th in FBS with 204 rushing yards per game, and eighth in rushing TDs with 22. These are pleasant surprises.
Buffalo ran for 312 yards against Wagner to open its schedule—big deal, beating up on what’s now an 0-7 FCS school.
In the ensuing four games, the Bulls rushed for 158.5 yards per game. To put that in context, 158.5 rushing yards per game would place the Bulls at 75th in the country today, between Missouri and Marshall. Not awful, but certainly second-tier, and a huge drop-off from the 2020 team that averaged 287 rushing yards per game with the number two ground attack in the nation.
On one hand, it was to be expected: UB lost key transfers to Kansas, and rolled out a new unit in place of what was expected to be a veteran-laden bunch. While the line (generally) kept Vantrease clean, without a solid push, the run game faltered.
And then—suddenly—the push came. In a 48-38 loss to Kent State, Buffalo rolled for 312 rushing yards. Last week, against Ohio, the Bulls posted another 271. Akron was gouged for 231.
The emergence of McDuffie, who runs hard, fights through contact, and is seemingly indefatigable, helps.
Credit must be given, however, to redshirt fifth year seniors Jake Fuzak and Jack Klenk, the holdovers who remain the core of the line; junior Gabe Wallace, who was a backup and special teams player in 2020; sophomore Bence Polgar, an even deeper reserve than Wallace last season; and redshirt freshman Deondre Doiron, whose last action before 2021 came as a high schooler in Canada.
The offense, which averaged 16.5 points per game in UB’s first four FBS games, is scoring nearly 37 per game over the past three. The improvement of the line makes all the difference.
Let’s give Mo Linguist his credit, as well. A first-year head coach, Linguist speaks quite voluminously about team culture and constant improvement. When Buffalo was struggling to beat Old Dominion, limping through a loss to Western Michigan, or falling behind by 21 points in consecutive weeks to Kent State and Ohio, it’s easy to roll one’s eyes.
Here he is, though, six months into his tenure as the program’s leader, eight games into his rookie season, and he’s led a team ransacked by the transfer portal to a .500 record.
An optimist believes the Bulls are well-positioned to close the season with a good look at a division title and a shot at the conference. Neither seemed possible a little over one week ago.
Time Is A Funny Thing
What a difference eight days can make!
Last weekend, down 21-0 to Ohio, UB’s season felt over. Today, the future’s wide open: the MAC East title, the conference championship, and bowl games remain firmly on the table.
Now what a difference the next 16 days will make. Bowling Green, next on the schedule, is in rough shape. Buffalo needs to take care of business.
The Falcons aren’t without their claws; BGSU did beat Minnesota on the road, a Big Ten team receiving votes in today’s new AP Top 25, and really screwing up the Golden Gophers’ season in the process (Minnesota’s only other stumble came in a season-opening 45-31 loss to #4 Ohio State).
The Gophers are a run-first team averaging 210 rushing yards per game—24th in FBS—that the Falcons’ defense held to 182 yards on the ground, forcing three turnovers.
UB is also a run-first team, one that has shown a penchant for allowing opponents to stick around late in games. A quick kill would be another step forward.
After Bowling Green, the Bulls have a nationally televised Tuesday night game at MAC East co-leader Miami (Ohio) on Nov. 9. One could reasonably assume this game will be for a share of first place in the conference:
The RedHawks’ next game is against Ohio, whose sole win this season came against Akron.
Kent State’s next game is against Northern Illinois, the only undefeated team remaining in the MAC (the Huskies are 6-2, 4-0).
If the Golden Flashes lose and Miami and Buffalo win their next games, we hit Nov. 9 with a one-loss RedHawks team, a two-loss Bulls squad, and Kent State with two MAC losses. UB will be playing for a share of the division lead.
Kent also has a tough Central Michigan matchup and Miami on its schedule.
After Miami, Buffalo must play NIU and Central Michigan.
Miami is slated to play BGSU and Kent State after the Bulls game. If UB beats the Hawks, and wins out, its odds of a division title are pretty good.
In other words, we could have an absolutely chaotic end to the season.
Let’s hope so! And let’s hope our guys end up on top.
Our Week Eight #MACtion Round-Up
Still here? Great! Let’s talk about what happened around the MAC this weekend. Things got a little wild.
Eastern Michigan 55, Bowling Green 24. Like Buffalo, EMU (5-3, 2-2) scored six TDs in the second and third quarters to torch the Falcons (2-6, 0-4). Eagles QB Ben Bryant threw for 286 yards and two TDs in the win as the visitors rolled up 455 yards of offense on their hapless hosts. Did I call it? Yes indeed—called the win and the cover. Will be interested to see spread on the Falcons-Bulls game next weekend; going on the record now that UB will be 16.5-point favorites.
Northern Illinois 39, Central Michigan 38. Game of the day! You heard it here first, gang. CMU’s attempt at a game-winning, 39-yard field goal with five seconds remaining failed, thanks to a bad snap. NIU (6-2, 4-0) came back from a 17-point third quarter deficit to remain the lone undefeated team in MAC play. The two teams combined for over 1,000 yards of offense, led by NIU QB Rocky Lombardi’s 348 passing yards (and three TDs!), CMU RB Lew Nichols III’s 244 combined rushing and receiving yards (and two TDs!), and Huskies RB Jay Ducker’s 183 rushing yards and WR Trayvon Rudolph’s 160 receiving yards (and two TDs!). Did I call it? Yes I did—I’m a believer in NIU. Still think Central Michigan (4-4, 2-2) is pretty good, too; not unlike our Bulls, they just seem to have a hard time putting it all together at the same time.
Kent State 34, Ohio 27. The MAC East co-leading Golden Flashes (4-4, 3-1) applied a somewhat methodical beatdown to floundering Ohio (1-7, 1-3) despite a game Bobcats attempt to stage a comeback in this one. Kent State QB Dustin Crum went 26-of-31 for 257 yards and a TD, and WR Dante Cephas—who tormented Buffalo—caught nine balls for 103 yards and a TD. Ohio QB Kurtis Rourke is back in a starting role, taking over for Armani Rogers (whose ability to run is nullified by his inability to complete passes) and threw for 308 yards. Did I call it? Yes, although the 5.5-point spread for the Flashes was a little tighter than anticipated. Got there, though.
Miami (Ohio) 24, Ball State 17. Kudos to the RedHawks (4-4, 3-1), who went on the road to face a red-hot Cardinals (4-4, 2-2) squad and came out of Muncie with the win. Miami QB Brett Gabbert returned to the starting role and completed 20-of-24 for 207 yards and two TDs. Jack Sorenson caught eight passes for 138 yards in the victory. Did I call it? I did not! I didn’t give the RedHawks much credit coming into this one, and should’ve respected their defense a bit more—this was kind of an ugly game, and that’s where Miami thrives.
Toledo 34, Western Michigan 15. I’ll say it at the top: I did not call this one. Toledo’s been all over the place this season, and WMU (5-3, 2-2) had won five of six—and was coming off a 64-point performance in a 33-point win over Kent State. WMU QB Kaleb Eleby was just average in this loss, completing 15-of-29 for 232 yards and no TDs. The Broncos’ run game completely stalled. Rockets QB Dequan Finn completed just eight passes, but two were for TDs and safety Zachary Ford ran back a Western Michigan fumble for a TD, as well. Pretty shocking road stumble for WMU, who are suddenly in the MAC West cellar. Toledo got back to .500 with the win, 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the MAC.
I called the UB win, but thought Akron would cover the double-digit spread. They did not.
My total for the week picking against the spread: 3-3
My total for the week picking winners: 4-2
For the season, I’m 29-32-1 against the spread. Toledo is probably responsible for about five of those miscues. I am 41-12 picking winners, however, which is a 77% clip. Is that good? I feel like that’s good. See you later this week, everyone.