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COACH MO SPEAKS, MIAMI (OHIO) WEEK, MAC EAST DREAMS & WHY WKU MATTERS
Maurice Linguist talks about bouncing back from the BGSU loss, Miami MACtion, and more.
Image from YouTube
Moving On From A Bad Day At The Office
It feels like more than eight days since Buffalo last played a football game, almost—but not quite—enough time to forget that the Bulls (4-5 overall, 2-3 in MAC play) walked off the UB Stadium turf on the wrong end of a 56-44 embarrassment courtesy of Bowling Green (3-6, 1-4).
The Falcons posted 484 yards of offense, including 221 on the ground, and scored eight touchdowns—five on plays of 30 yards or more—nullifying a 499-yard performance by a UB offense led by backup QB Matt Myers (12-of-24, 239 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 rushing TDs) and junior RB Dylan McDuffie (166 rushing yards, 2 TDs).
The Bulls’ defense had a brutal day.
“Just missed tackles and missed assignments,” Buffalo head coach Maurice Linguist said in his weekly press conference on Thursday. “Guys were at the point of attack and we just didn’t down the football. We spent a good amount of time this week working on the fundamentals and technique—getting our eyes in the right place and make sure we are aligned correctly. Great stance, great knee bend, making sure we’re setting the edge, playing with our outside arm, filling gaps, and, ultimately, tackling the football.”
“That Isn’t Our Team”
Linguist is always a font of positivity. He was upbeat on Thursday, despite the fact that the loss dropped the Bulls into third place in the MAC East.
The path to a division title is disappearing over the horizon, given leader of the pack Kent State’s 4-1 conference record and its 48-38 win over UB on Oct. 9.
Linguist talked about great comeback stories from days past—the 2004 Red Sox, the 2011 New York Giants, the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers—and emphasized the need for a response.
“Number one, that isn’t our team that showed up there. That isn’t to the standard of what we’ve been,” Linguist said. “The second thing is to get up and get off the mat. Any time you have a step back, or a little bit of a disappointment, it’s how quickly can you respond.”
It’s not like Buffalo can’t handle adversity. The Bulls have been outscored 49-3 in the first quarter of the last four games, according to UBBulls.com, but have rebounded to top their opponents, 67-3, in the third quarter of the same four games.
”I think we’re capable,” Linguist said. “We’re able. That alone isn’t getting it done. We have to make sure we have the right approach and mentality coming into games, and we have to respond the right way.”
Not Everything Was Terrible
The Bulls fell behind by 18 points twice during the loss to BGSU, thanks to a defense offering minimal resistance. Myers, McDuffie, and company managed cut the lead to five four different times, only to see their counterparts on the other side of the ball immediately collapse.
UB’s offense weathered the storm until the bitter end without starting QB Kyle Vantrease, who was knocked out of the game with an apparent knee injury—he’ll be active on Tuesday against Miami (Ohio)—and played its third consecutive game without veteran RB Kevin Marks, one of the top rushers in school history.
“To be able to have the great balance that we had on offense, especially with Kyle going down and then Matt stepping in, being able to rush and pass for 200 yards, being able to throw efficiently, move the ball—I think we had 35+ first downs,” Linguist said. “We feel like we did enough with enough moving pieces to put ourselves in a position to win.”
The offense is quietly one of the better units in the country. Buffalo’s currently 23rd in FBS in rushing yards per game, averaging 206.2 per contest, and sixth in rushing touchdowns (27). The Bulls are 30th nationally in scoring. McDuffie is 38th in rushing yards (766), just behind highly-touted Michigan back Blake Corum (788).
A Lesson on Defense
The results against BGSU notwithstanding, Linguist’s a defensive guru who’s coached at nine colleges and one NFL team (Dallas) over the past 14 years. He took a moment on Thursday to offer a bit of a primer on defense.
“The fundamentals,” Linguist explained, “are pursuit, hit and shed, tackling, ball disruption, leveraging the ball, eyes, stance, and getting 11 hats to the football and to play as hard as humanly possible. You’ve got to make plays, (but) it’s also about responding to adversity. There are a lot of weapons in this league, a lot of threatening offenses that can put up a lot of points against you in a hurry.”
Linguist’s not wrong—the average score in last week’s MAC games were 45-38. MACtion, baby.
“How do you respond when a couple plays don’t go your way?” he asked. “I think a lot of teams in the league are in a similar situation—getting guys to get up and dust themselves off and refocus on what they have in front of them. Go out there with the right mindset, attitude and demeanor. Go out there and play strong, and play well.”
Next Up: A Tuesday Night Fight at Miami (Ohio)
The RedHawks (4-5, 3-2) blew a chance to stay tied with Kent State for the MAC East lead by inexplicably losing to Ohio (2-3, 2-7), 35-33, on Nov. 2 after winning three of its first four conference games.
Miami is seventh in the MAC in total offense (408.4 yards per game), third in passing (267.6 ypg), eighth in rushing (140.9 ypg), and ninth in scoring (24.8 points per game).
They’ve used two QBs this season, with sophomore Brett Gabbert (1,435 passing yards, 14 TDs, 3 INTs) playing over fellow second-year man AJ Mayer (946 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs) when healthy.
Freshman Keyon Mozee is the team’s leading rusher with 355 yards on the ground, although he had only three carries against Ohio. Six other RedHawks have at least 20 rushing attempts this season.
Miami is third in the MAC in total defense (356.9 yards allowed per game), and are fifth against the pass (219.4 ypg) and second against the run (137.4 ypg). The Hawks are also second in points allowed per game (23.7), trailing only Toledo.
Sophomore LB Ivan Pace, Jr. leads the team with 87 total tackles, while fellow Cincinnati native Lonnie Phelps—a sophomore DE—has a team-high 6.5 sacks. Senior DB Sterling Weatherford has two INTs.
The game is slated for Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Miami’s Yager Stadium in Oxford, Ohio. It will be televised on ESPNU.
On the injury front:
QB Kyle Vantrease is back on the depth chart for Tuesday as the starter.
RB Kevin Marks Jr., who last played Oct. 9 against Kent State, is listed as the second back on the depth chart—the caveat being he and Ron Cook, Jr. are both in that number two slot (“Kevin Marks or Ron Cook”), which makes his return a bit ambiguous. He’s one rushing touchdown shy of tying James Starks for second in school history with 34, and 11 yards from becoming the sixth player in program history to rush for 3,000 career yards, according to UBBulls.com.
Edge rushers Taylor Riggins and Max Michel are both absent from the depth chart. Riggins, like Marks, last played on Oct. 9, and Michel last played on Oct. 23 against Akron. The duo’s responsible for eight sacks this season.
As The MAC East Turns
So here’s where we are right now:
Kent State is solidly atop the division with a 4-1 record after taking out MAC West-leading Northern Illinois, 52-47. The road ahead is not without pitfalls: up next is Central Michigan (5-4, 3-2), winners if three of its last four, including victories over Toledo and Western Michigan. The Golden Flashes also face second-place Miami (3-2 MAC) in the season finale.
Buffalo’s in 2-3 and in third place behind Kent State and Miami. If the Bulls beat the RedHawks, UB moves into second place at 3-3 with the tiebreaker. Buffalo must win its final three games, and the Golden Flashes would need to lose its final three, for the Bulls to take the division title and get a shot at the conference championship. It won’t be easy—UB has NIU and Ball State on its dance card after this week’s road trip to Oxford.
For Miami to win the division, it must enter its Nov. 27 game against Kent State either tied or one game behind in the standings. The RedHawks have Buffalo and Bowling Green on the schedule before that final showdown.
Ohio actually has a sneaky shot at the division, as well. The Bobcats are 2-3 and have a win over Miami if it comes down to a tiebreaker. OU plays Eastern Michigan, Toledo, and Bowling Green to close out the season—if it wins all three, Kent State loses its final three, Miami loses to either Buffalo or Bowling Green (or both), and the Bulls lose at least one more game, those crazy Cats will pull through.
Akron’s eliminated. At 1-4 with a tie-breaking loss to Miami on their resume, there’s no way for the Zips to get to 4-4 and Kent State to fall to 4-4 without the RedHawks also going 4-4, too.
Bowling Green’s also done. Even winning out to get to 4-4, which would give it victories over Miami and Buffalo, wouldn’t overcome its loss to Kent State.
Buffalo needs to win two of its final three to be bowl eligible. It could still happen! According to College Football News, MAC teams can play in the following bowls, based on best game or geography:
– Bahamas Bowl vs. Conference USA
– Camellia Bowl vs. American Athletic or Sun Belt
– Famous Idaho Potato Bowl vs. Mountain West
– LendingTree Bowl vs. Sun Belt
– Offerpad Arizona Bowl vs. Mountain West
– Quick Lane Bowl vs. Big Ten
To be determined among the Group of Five conferences. MAC will get spots in two of these bowls …
– Cure Bowl vs. Group of Five or Army
– Myrtle Beach Bowl vs. American Athletic or Sun Belt
– New Mexico Bowl vs. Conference USA
– RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl vs. Group of Five or Army
– Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl vs. Group of Five or Army
Someday Soon, This Game Will Matter
Conference USA is imploding. From Chris Vannini of The Athletic:
C-USA has been in a scramble since conference realignment saw the league lose nine of its 14 current members, a number that could reach 11. Six left for the American Athletic Conference (Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA), three left for the Sun Belt (Marshall, Old Dominion, Southern Miss) and two may leave for the MAC.
This move gets C-USA up to nine full-time members, although the status of Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee is up in the air as the MAC considers adding them. At least eight members are required to be an FBS conference, although a two-year grace period is allowed if a conference falls below that number.
In that context, this past week’s game between Middle Tennessee (4-5, 2-3) and Western Kentucky (5-4, 4-1) took on a lot more relevance for MAC watchers like you and I.
Here’s an interesting note from WKU’s big win, also courtesy of Mr. Vannini:
Middle Tennessee entered Saturday ranked No. 1 in turnover margin per game, then turned the ball over seven times against Western Kentucky.
The Blue Raiders had a plus-14 margin in the first eight games. Now it’s plus-seven. WKU finished with six interceptions in a 48-21 win, along with a fumble recovery.
In nine games, WKU quarterback Bailey Zappe has 3,688 passing yards and wide receiver Jerreth Sterns has 104 catches for 1,276 yards. Zappe’s 281 yards against MTSU were 84 fewer than his previous lowest outing this year.
Another MAC-worthy note from Vannini’s same article:
Northern Illinois’s Trayvon Rudolph became the first player to have 300 receiving yards in a loss since 2012. Rudolph had 309 yards on 14 catches with three touchdowns in a 52-47 loss to Kent State.
Have a good week, everyone!