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CHRISTMAS CATCH-UP, PART 2: UB FOOTBALL
The Camellia Bowl starts at noon. Get caught up before you take a three-hour lunch break.
Image from ubbulls.com
It was quite a journey, but we’re back: for the first time in two years (almost to the day), the University at Buffalo football team is about to play in a bowl game.
The team is playing in the same postseason contest—the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama—in which it appeared back on Christmas Day 2020, but almost everything else is different.
New coach. New staff. New opponent—Georgia Southern this time around, as opposed to Marshall, the Eagles’ Sun Belt Conference counterpart, in 2020. Only 16 players who were on the roster in 2020 remain on this year’s squad.
Attendance in 2020, courtesy of a global pandemic that hasn’t quite worn itself out yet, was limited to just 10 percent of capacity—which, at the Crampton Stadium, the 100-year-old facility that saw its first football action when the Philadelphia Eagles moved its training camp there in 1922, is 25,000 people.1
Bulls running back Kevin Marks, Jr. was the MVP of the 2020 Camellia Bowl, rushing for 138 yards and a touchdown in a 17-10 win over Marshall.
Who will be the hero this time around?
Let’s get caught up on UB football in time for the big game, which starts at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN. Georgia Southern is a -4.5-point favorite.
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3 Things You Have to Know About The Camellia Bowl
Image from ubbulls.com
1. The Bulls will be down a few players.
Well, it happens to everyone. Following UB’s 23-22 win over Mid-American Conference rival Akron on Dec. 2, Buffalo’s seen quarterbacks Matt Myers2, Casey Case3, and Brian Plummer hit the transfer portal along with starting center Jack Hasz, offensive lineman Janik Ogunlade, nickel back Keyshawn Cobb, wide receiver Jamari Gassett, safety Jibrahn Claude, defensive back Logic Hudgens, defensive lineman Floyd Dozier, and tight end Trevor Borland. Defensive backs Isaiah King, Jahmin Muse, and Elijah Blades are stepping aside to prepare themselves for potential careers in the National Football League. Running back Ron Cook, Jr.’s health status is unclear for the game, as well.
Obviously, these are issues. If starting quarterback Cole Snyder gets hurt, the Bulls are down to freshman Mike DePillo, whose last action came while prepping with the St. Thomas More School in Connecticut. Muse, Cobb, Blades, and King were four of the top defensive backs on the team. Hasz was ranked 173rd out of 293 centers in the FBS, but he was a known quantity. Cook led UB in rushing (and was ninth in the MAC) with 600 yards despite missing two games.
Is Head Coach Maurice Linguist worried? No. Next man up.
“Isn’t this what you came here for?” Linguist said in his pre-bowl press conference. “You came here to put yourself in a position to go out there and compete and play at a high level. You have a chance to go out there and play on ESPN against a very, very good Georgia Southern team, and go out there with your teammates and your brothers. This team is energized. We’ve got a lot of guys flying around. We had a really good practice today. They’re having fun. They’re also focused and locked in. We’re looking forward to the challenge and the moment.”
2. If you’re not sick of hearing about Kyle Vantrease, you will be shortly.
Image from news.yahoo.com
Hey, did you know Kyle Vantrease played for Buffalo and Georgia Southern? This is by no means a knock on KVT, but if you’ve watched Buffalo games with the sound on at all this season, you’ve noticed that the broadcasting crews aren’t always 100 percent…prepared. It’s fair to assume they’re going to glom onto this storyline like the deed to a gold mine.
In case you are new to Bulls football: Vantrease saw action in 33 games over his UB career. The team posted a 20-15 record from 2017 to 2021 in games in which he took a snap. Vantrease threw for 4,678 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in Buffalo. While these are not the gaudiest of stats, his two bowl appearances (both wins!) and the general quality of the program with Vantrease under center make him arguably the most successful quarterback in school history.
Vantrease transferred to head coach Clay Helton’s4 program after the 2021 season and promptly put up monster numbers inconceivable during his Bulls’ tenure. Vantrease threw for 3,891 yards, fifth most in the FBS, 25 touchdowns and, well, 15 interceptions (leading the nation).
He was 3rd-team All-SBC and cemented his legend in Statesboro for his last-second heroics in wins over Nebraska, Ball State, James Madison (in which he set the school’s single-game record with 578 passing yards), and Appalachian State, a 51-48 double-overtime barn burner in which Kyle’s 25-yard touchdown pass ended the game and made GSU bowl-eligible.
Coach Mo doesn’t necessarily think KVT’s history with UB gives Buffalo any kind of edge or special inside knowledge, however.
“Before you start filling in the blanks on any player, even if you have a history with them, you want to start from scratch,” he said. “It has been a year. New preparation, new scheme. New things show up. You can’t really say, oh, we know this guy, this is what we’re going to do. He’s a talented, talented quarterback, one of the leaders in the country in yards thrown per game. We really just try to treat him the same way we would treat all the other quarterbacks we faced all year…find a way to get ourselves a schematic advantage here or there. How do we stop a very, very talented quarterback who throws for a lot of yards, for a lot of touchdowns, and really start with our exact same approach to game-planning.”
3. Georgia Southern: There’s a Reason They’re Playing in the Camellia Bowl, Too.
Image from al.com
Like Buffalo, the Eagles had a chance for a more prestigious bowl appearance this season (like that sweet RoofClaim Boca Raton Bowl) were it not for some untimely miscues over the stretch run. Sound familiar, Bulls fans (grins tightly)?
Georgia Southern is limping into this game after losing three of its final four games to wrap up the regular season. In fact, three straight losses to Sun Belt foes South Alabama (38-31), Louisiana (36-17), and Marshall (23-10), put the Eagles in a must-win situation for their Nov. 26 finale vs. Appalachian State. In what was a back-and-forth score-fest, Georgia Southern answered the Mountaineers' field goal in the second overtime period with a touchdown for a thrilling 51-48 victory to secure bowl eligibility in head coach Clay Helton's first season leading the Eagles.
Khaleb Hood leads the team with 80 receptions for 896 yards and also has three touchdowns. Teammate Derwin Burgess Jr. is tops with seven touchdowns, second in yards (717), and third in receptions (58). Jeremy Singleton (66 rec., 714 yds., 2 TDs) rounds out a productive trio of wideouts, and Amare Jones (6 TD catches) also has had an impact. Buffalo's defense has its work cut out as it will try and slow down the nation's fourth-ranked passing attack (327.8 ypg). Vantrease has thrown his share of interceptions, and the Bulls are second in the MAC with 12 picks, so that is something to keep an eye on in this game.
Georgia Southern also doesn't completely abandon the run, as Jalen White leads the way with 914 yards and 10 touchdowns on 162 carries. Considering Buffalo's issues stopping the run (175.3 ypg, 23 TDs) don't be surprised if Eagles head coach Clay Helton (pictured above) stays a little more grounded with his game plan, especially if it's effective early on.
Georgia Southern has been very generous on defense, giving up plenty of yards both on the ground (240 per game) and through the air (256.2). So Buffalo should have little trouble moving the ball. The Eagles' D also doesn't produce many negative plays, finishing the regular season ranked last in the Sun Belt in both tackles for a loss (47) and sacks (18).
Should be an intriguing game. It’ll be interesting to see how some of UB’s key players leave us this offseason: will we go into the depths of winter feeling good about Cole Snyder at quarterback, or Mike Washington as the bell cow back? Will some of the new faces in the secondary give us hope—or anxiety—for 2023? Will the special teams units stop a kick or punt return before, you know, the returner eats up 30 yards?
It’ll be fun to have Buffalo football back, if just for day. Don’t tell my boss, but I’ll be working in front of the big screen tomorrow.
Because He Deserves It: Coach Mo Praises James Patterson
Image from ubbulls.com
After Tuesday, the Bulls will be without a Patterson brother on the roster for the first time since 2017. So ends an era of UB football, the most successful six-year run for Buffalo since returning to FBS status, and the loss—at least from. the playing field, because I can’t imagine James Patterson (pictured above, #8) ever really saying goodbye to this university—of a pair of extraordinary gentlemen.
Back for a fifth season, linebacker James Patterson continues to cement himself as one of the best linebackers in program history. He is just the fifth player in program history to amass 400 tackles, currently ranking fourth with 409. He has 82 more tackles than all-time great Khalil Mack A team captain since his sophomore season, Patterson was named All-MAC First Team in 2020 and 2021 and to the second team this year. He has made 55 career starts, the most starts by any player in program history. James O’Hagan (2015-18) and Peter Bittner (2007-10) are the only other players to start 50 games at UB.
Shaun Dolac and James Patterson both rank in the top 20 in the nation in tackles. Dolac ranks fourth with 11.2 tackles per game while Patterson ranks 20th with 9.3 tackles per game.
Let’s just keep saying it until it happens: put a statue of James Patterson in front of UB Stadium. The man exemplifies everything this program seeks to be.
“Toughness. Grit. Determination. A great perseverance that he has to himself,” Linguist said of Patterson. “I think he’s working on his third degree right now. He’s a success story because of how hard he’s worked, and he’s never given up. He’s never quit. He’s probably had a lot of opportunities—he’s been hurt, he’s had season-ending injuries, and he never once felt sorry for himself. There’s no fear or timidity in him—he just says, hey, bring on the next thing. He’s got a great personality, he’s back healthy, and we’re looking forward to him getting back in the game.”
The 2023 Signing Class Is On The Books, Here’s Who’s Coming to School
Image from cleveland.com
Image from ubbulls.com
Get excited. Look at the geographic spread on that list of recruits—literally a cross-country bunch, from California to the New York island, and plenty of talent from the fertile football grounds of the South. As much as we love seeing Rochester kids on the roster, it gets you particularly fired up to see those young men from Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi coming to the Frozen North, too.
Highly recommend checking out this link to read mini-bios on the new guys, but will note that Dion Crawford, Jamarr Davis, Jamari Ford, Jevell Fugerson, D’Andre Greeley, Nickolas Roy, and Lamar Sperling are all three-star recruits.
Here’s Coach Mo’s philosophy on roster-building in these days when recruiting and the transfer portal overlap like some kind of funky football Venn diagram:
There’s a lot of layers to it. You’ve got to step back and look at your roster from a lot of angles, find out what do you need, what do you have, what needs to get developed. It’s kind of a moving, breathing organism that never really stops. Recruiting is kind of like shaving—you got to do it every day so you can look good. You have to continue to stay at it.
It’s early identification for us, it’s having a plan in place for when guys get into our program for how we’re going to develop them and what they can bring. If we’re taking a guy at this position, what does it mean for guys at other positions? There are layers of questions involved when we make a final decision to add someone on our roster.
If you look at us from a year ago, Justin Marshall—was he a great addition for us? yes. Quian Williams—was he a great addition for us? Yes. Jaylon Bass. Daymond Williams. We’ve had a number.
Jahmin Muse. Dez Bessent started all the games at tackle, he transferred in. Isaiah Wright transferred in. Our starting quarterback, Cole Snyder, transferred in. So I think we’ve got a pretty good system in place in terms of how we identify, how we connect and build relationships, and how we put a plan in place where that guy can grow and develop in our program. …
When you look at how you develop and build your roster—one thing I learned in the NFL, it’s a 365-day approach to improve your locker room. Everything that we do is about the success of the locker room.
I think you look into your locker room first. You want to pour into the young men who are in your locker room, grow them the right way. Set and place daily standards that we feel, if we hit these marks over time, are the things that are ultimately going to make us successful.
Once you get outside of your four walls, you’re looking at who you need to add, and where are they coming from. There’s a little bit of a pro mindset in terms of player acquisition.
Obviously, we’re still dealing with student athletes, where school is involved, and those things, but when you look at just the football element of it, it’s early identification, it’s where are they coming from, and it’s what are they bringing to the table that’s going to solve problems that you may have.
Then, it’s how do you connect with those guys and the goals they may have in place, so they can ultimately get to where they want to go?”
UB Players Earn Postseason Hardware
Image from ubbulls.com
Win games, and people notice your stat line a little more closely. Or, like UB safety Marcus Fuqua, pick off seven passes and tie for first in the nation in interceptions to get your name out there. A handful of bowl-bound Buffalo athletes earned accolades in the postseason congratulation parade:
Fuqua was named a 3rd-Team All-American by the Associated Press, the first Bulls defender to earn the honor since Khalil Mack in 2013.
Fuqua, kicker Alex McNulty and linebacker Shaun Dolac took 1st-Team All-MAC honors. Linebacker James Patterson is an All-MAC 2nd-teamer, and offensive linemen Gabe Wallace and Dez Bessent and wide receiver Quian Williams made the third team.
Fuqua was also named First-Team Defense on the College Football Network All-American list. Dolac and Patterson earned honorable mentions.
And Finally…Congratulations, Coach
Another sign I am rapidly turning into my dad: I am fascinated by old stadiums. The Wikipedia entry on Crampton Stadium is pretty fascinating. Lot of history there!
Myers is committed to UT-Martin, which is in northwest Tennessee and roughly equidistant from Nashville and Memphis on the Kentucky border. The campus looks beautiful. Good for him—look at the snow outside and imagine winter in Tennessee.
Looks like Case has committed to Stony Brook. Seaside campus in the Hamptons? Good for you, Casey.
Helton was head coach of Southern Cal from midseason 2015 through September 2021, winning 46 games and the 2017 Rose Bowl, a 52-49 win over Penn State and maybe the most entertaining football game of all time. Expect to hear a lot about Coach Helton, as well.