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NEXT STOP: BOWLING GREEN
Can't get the Falcons out of my head.
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The University at Buffalo football team has done well to pull itself out of the 0-3 hole it dug to start the 2022 season. Two solid wins over Mid-American Conference opponents—a 50-point outburst at Eastern Michigan, and a final-minute Homecoming victory over Miami—have gone a long way towards washing away the taste of the infamous Holy Cross Hail Mary and a bit of a meltdown at Coastal Carolina.
The Bulls now sit at 2-3 overall, 2-0 in the MAC, astride the East Division. What a difference 11 days make.
“About a month ago, we were in a similar setting, talking about finishing games and finishing drives,” Bulls head coach Maurice Linguist said in his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “I’m just really proud of the progression the team has made over the last three or four weeks in terms of improving, growing, and correcting mistakes. The defense has not allowed a touchdown in the last two fourth quarters, something we emphasize a lot. …(I’m) proud of the players, proud of the coaches, and we have turned the page and are now moving on to a very talented and very athletic Bowling Green team.”
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Taking a Flyer on the Falcons
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Bowling Green—the little upset machine in northwest Ohio, the team that made national waves in 2021 when it beat 31-point favorite Minnesota and took out Marshall this season a week after the Thundering Herd stampeded Notre Dame’s playoff aspirations in South Bend. The Falcons (2-3, 1-0) are ninth in the MAC in total offense, averaging just 328 yards a game, but third in scoring offense with a cool 30.6 points-per-game average.
That’s due in large part to quarterback Matt McDonald (pictured above), who’s tied for 14th in the county in passing touchdowns with 14. He’s thrown three or more in his past three games, and appeared to be back in form in a 31-28 win over Akron this past Saturday after missing BGSU’s Sept. 24 loss at Mississippi State with an injury:
Senior quarterback Matt McDonald’s numbers against Akron after missing the Mississippi State game due to hip pointers: 18 for 29, 247 passing yards, three touchdowns, one interception. McDonald’s average numbers in the past three games, rounded off to whole numbers: 23 for 38, 271 passing yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions. That figure includes a woeful 4-for-12 start against Marshall. Bowling Green’s offense is far from perfect, but it’s hard to argue with the fact the Falcons have a veteran quarterback playing some of the best football of his career.
“McDonald is doing an excellent job,” Linguist acknowledged. “He’s just smart. A smart, efficient player who puts the ball where it needs to be.”
McDonald—the scion of a legitimate quarterbacking legend, Paul McDonald, who lead Southern Cal to the 1978 national championship—has a bit of history against UB, of course.
We’re not talking about 2020, when he was 17-for-27 for 219 yards and an interception in a 42-17 home loss to the Jaret Patterson-led Bulls.
No, we’re thinking more about last season’s 56-44 BGSU victory at Buffalo, when McDonald spanked the UB defense for four touchdowns and 268 passing yards on just 13 completions. And—most memorably—he added a rushing touchdown on a fake kneel-down with the game in its final seconds:
Classy! This was the same game, you may remember, that Falcons head coach Scot Loeffler became the first college coach to be ejected for multiple unsportsmanlike penalties. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, apparently.
“They Embarrassed Us”
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Credit to Rachel Lenzi of The Buffalo News—she got star UB linebacker James Patterson to say what we were all thinking.
“Last year, they did what they did, they embarrassed us,” Patterson said. “Call it what it is. But it’s another game in the MAC. Each game is a challenge, you can’t treat it as, ‘Oh, this is a lighter game,’ or ‘This is a big game.’ Each game is that game where it’s going to be a dog fight, and us as a team, as a family, we have to be prepared and stay together."
Wouldn’t it be nice to see a big, fat blowout with, maybe, a fake knee by Cole Snyder as the clock wound down? Haha, of course not! We’re above such things.
Coach Mo, for his part, downplayed any revenge factor, noting that roster churn had made last season’s embarrassment old news.
“You know, there’s so much new information on BG now,” Linguist said. “There’s enough film evidence of what they’ve done this year. We’ve been a little bit more focused on what they’ve done this year, that’s present and current right now. We’ve got enough guys on this team now that if I brought up a game from a year ago they really wouldn’t know what I’m talking about.”
Times Change, Seasons Change
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Consider last year’s team when the Falcons came to town:
Quarterback Matt Myers (pictured above) came in for an injured Kyle Vantrease.
Running back Dylan McDuffie ran 34 times for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
Wide receiver Dominic Johnson caught four balls for 96 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Tyler Stephens grabbed four passes for 36 yards.
Ja’Marcus Ingram, Cory Gross, Jr., E.J. Brown, and Aapri Washington played critical snaps in the secondary. Linebacker Kadofi Wright made a seven-yard tackle for a loss.
Your offensive line: Jake Fuzak, Gabe Wallace, Deondre Doiron, Bence Polgar, and Jack Klenk.
From that group of 15 impact players, two—Myers and Wallace—remain. That doesn’t even include defensive lineman Josh Rogers (gone), Kyler Laing (injured), or Taylor Riggins (injured at the time, now gone).
Maybe Coach Mo has a point.
Bowling Green’s top rusher from 2021, Terion Stewart, is sitting out this season. He’s been replaced by sophomores Jaison Patterson (149 rushing yards), Jamal Johnson (115 rushing yards), and Ta’ron Keith (207 yards from scrimmage) to the extent that the Falcons—ranked 117th in Division 1 in rushing offense,1 averaging 3.2 yards per carry and 103 yards per game—are capable of running the ball.
Despite a fairly balanced attack (36 passes to 32 runs per game), BGSU makes its hay in the air. Three receivers (Alabama A&M transfer Odieu Hilaire, Boston College transfer C.J. Lewis, and 6’7 junior Tyrone Broden—tallest in the country!) have combined to catch 42 passes for 598 yards and eight touchdowns.
With that in mind, Buffalo’s air game is, statistically, better. The Bulls, ranked 69th in FBS passing offense, have more completions (110 to 104), yards (1,228 to 1,127), yards per attempt (6.75 to 6.26), yards per completion (11.16 to 10.84), and yards per game (245.6 to 225.4) than 85th-ranked Bowling Green. UB also struggles to run—the 104th rushing team in D-1—but cranks out 20 yards more yards on the ground than their hosts on Saturday.
Both teams are about the same on third downs, converting 37 percent of their opportunities. Buffalo’s the MAC leader in fewest penalties per game (five). The Falcons, however, have given up the fewest sacks in the conference (seven). Don’t expect to net a lot of free yards, either way.
Getting Defensive: The Falcons’ D is Not Good…Or Maybe It Is?
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Coach Mo was effusive in his praise of the BGSU defense—
We have to go on the road, with all the challenges that come with traveling in the Mid American Conference. Coach Scot Loeffler does an outstanding job—he did a great job in recruiting, he found a lot of length and skill and talent. You look at their defense—20 sacks on the year, a really good job in terms of attacking the quarterback—and creating plays on the back end. They’ve got athleticism at all three levels. An all-conference linebacker coming back from last season. Two very good safeties. Corners that can cover and win.
—which is interesting, considering the Falcons’ defense is 128th in the country and second-to-last in the MAC, allowing nearly 500 yards per game. Bowling Green’s given up at least 28 points per game, including 45 to both #18 UCLA and #23 Mississippi State, and 59 to Eastern Kentucky.
OK, you say, that’s two ranked teams and a pretty good FCS unit; things happen. BGSU also gave up 31 points to Marshall (75th-ranked offense) and 28 points to Akron (124th-ranked offense), neither considered offensive juggernauts.
The All-MAC linebacker Linguist refers to is 6’0, 230-pound senior Darren Anders (pictured above), who was indeed a first-team defender last season and appeared on the preseason Butkus, Bednarik, Nagurski, and Lombardi watch lists. He has 30 tackles, good for third on the team behind fellow linebacker D.J. Taylor (35 tackles) and safety Chris Bacon (34).
Another Falcons linebacker—J.B. Brown—has forced three fumbles this season.
Senior lineman Karl Brooks—a 300-pound third-team All-MAC selection in 2021—has 4.5 sacks, 15th in the nation, and is tied for eighth in Division 1 with 6.5 tackles for a loss. BGSU has 11 players with at least one sack, which leads the country.
Senior cornerback Jordan Anderson is the most dangerous man in the secondary. Pro Football Focus grades him out as the 37th corner of 831 measured in the 2022 season. He’s a slot cornerback, much stronger against the pass than the run, and is also a capable pass-rusher. Anderson has an interception and three breakups this season.
Fellow defensive backs Jordan Oladokun, Deshawn Jones, Jr., and Jalen Burton grade significantly lower, dropping into the middle of the national pack. None are particularly strong against the run, or at rushing the passer.
Image from cbssports.com
It’s tough to get a read on this opponent, to be honest. We want to say that Buffalo, hot after these last two wins, will go in and exact revenge for last season’s debacle. But—in my gut, in a dark place—Bowling Green, whose coach (pictured above) almost died earlier this season and for whom every win turns the temperature down on the Scot Loeffler hot seat, may…be…good. Or not!
BGSU gave UCLA a pretty good game for a half; lost to an FCS team (so did UB!) but scored 57 freakin’ points; beat a Marshall team that, by the transitive property was (for a week) a top-10 team in the country; got rocked by Mississippi State without their starting QB, who’s the key to their entire offense; and squeaked past Akron, maybe the worst team in the country.
Who are they? We’ll have to sort it out on the field.
In the meantime, take solace in the words of Coach Mo:
There’s a path to beat anybody in pro football or college football. You just gotta find that path and find out what are the keys to victory that week. What do you have to emphasize, and there are certain things that are going to be true every week, but every opponent is a little bit different. Our guys do a really good job of hearing the message throughout the week, owning what they have to own, and that’s why improvements have been made.
Let’s hope the improvements continue. The game is Saturday at noon (ESPN+). Horns up.
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UB O-Line Gets Passing Grades, But Run Blocking Grates
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Nick Hartnett was an All-Southern Conference left guard at Virginia Military Institute in 2021. He transferred to Buffalo, was named to Phil Steele’s 4th-Team All-MAC squad, and started against Maryland in the first game of the Bulls’ 2022 season.
He’s not starting anymore. In fact, he’s played so little that he doesn’t even qualify for Pro Football Focus’ grading system. In his place, Dom Polizzi and Tyler Doty—the former a one-time walk-on, the latter a redshirt and scout team player until this season—have taken the majority of the snaps.
The UB offensive line has had its ups and downs this season.
The running game is at a 12-year nadir, its 123 yards per game Buffalo’s lowest average since freshman Branden Oliver was splitting carries with Ike Nduka back in 2010.
At the same time, the passing attack—at 245.6 yards per game—is getting back to levels last season when Joe Licata and Tyree Jackson ran the show.
The Bulls allow 2.2 sacks per game, which, at 77th in D-1, isn’t great, but around two dozen teams are right at that two-per-game level. Not terrible, either.
I’ll be honest—even if I spent time grinding tape, I couldn’t really grade UB’s o-linemen. But Pro Football Focus can!2 Here's what PFF says about the Buffalo road graders:
Jack Hacz (center) - 251st of 288 centers; 97th of 265th pass blocking (that’s good!), 255 of 259 in run blocking (that’s not).
Dom Polizzi (guard) - 346th out of 602 guards, but 201 of 563 in pass blocking.
Gabe Wallace (guard) - 428th of 602 guards and, overall, posting the worst grades of his career—but he is 97th of 563 guards in pass blocking.
Tyler Doty (guard) - 266th of 602 guards, and a slightly better pass blocker than run blocker.
Desmond Bessent (tackle) - 265th of 601 tackles, slightly better pass blocker than run blocker.
Isaiah Wright (tackle) - 438th of 601 tackles, in the bottom 20% of run blockers.
Tight end Robbie Mangas is rated 71st out of 417 run-blocking tight ends, while fellow TE Trevor Borland is 110th. Borland, interestingly, grades out quite high as a pass blocker, too.
Our eyes do not deceive us: the run game’s struggled, the pass blocking’s been fairly stout. We’ll see if the line tightens up against a multi-pronged BGSU rush.
Shaun Dolac, MAC Tackling Machine
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Dolac had 14 tackles, including a career-high 12 solo stops in Buffalo's 24-20 win over Miami (OH) on Saturday. The junior linebacker added a career-best three tackles for loss in the game. Trailing by three heading into the fourth quarter, Dolac helped spearhead a defense that kept the RedHawks off the scoreboard, allowing the Bulls to pull out a late victory.
Dolac leads the team and ranks second in the MAC in tackles with 53. He also has four tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
It marks the fourth time in the first five weeks a UB player has been named MAC Player of the Week. Safety Marcus Fuqua was named MAC East Defensive Player of Week in week one. Kicker Alex McNulty was named MAC East Special Teams Player of the Week in weeks three and four.
Bulls in the Big Time
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Buffalo’s putting players in the National Football League, a point drilled home by Mason Schreck, Demone Harris, and Khalil Mack crossing paths when the Houston Texans met the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
The dream can come true here, as Coach Linguist noted when discussing Texas Tech-to-UB transfer Ja’Marcus Ingram on Tuesday:
I’m watching the Miami Dolphins play our Buffalo Bills, and I look over and see #46, our Ja’Marcus Ingram. He spent a year with us and exactly what we talked about for him is happening for him. He is playing in NFL games, prime time football. (The Bills) had a grind-out win last week, and he’s a big contributor for those guys.
The neat thing about his story is that so many things had to go right for him to be presented in that space. The reality of it is that coming to Buffalo helped him. The proximity, and the relationships, and all of things that go into it, that are involved with (the Bills) doing an outstanding job in their scouting department, and those guys trusting our guys and what we have to say about our players, and then all of the sudden, he’s an NFL player. He was over my house not too long ago—so we get to see him still—and he’s so thankful and happy that he made a decision to come to UB.
For recruits out there, we got double digit numbers in the NFL. There’s a proven path to come here, do your job, take care of your business, and if you have those desires to go and play in the National Football League, its proven over time that you can do it here. You’ve got Mason Schrenk, Khalil Mack, so many guys who are out doing a really good job.
We’ve had over 20 NFL clubs come to our building over the last 6 weeks alone. Assistant GMs. National directors of player personnel. Top level executives who come here to review our players.
Let’s go, Buffalo!
This is actually right on pace with the Falcons’ 2021 performance, in which the team averaged 103.5 rushing yards per game. Of course, against Buffalo, BGSU racked up 221.
As you may have noticed, I have invested in a Pro Football Focus subscription. Well worth the $9.99 a month!