TAKEAWAYS FROM BUFFALO'S SEASON-OPENING LOSS TO MARYLAND
PLUS: Lessons from Coach Mo; highlights(?) from a rough weekend for the MAC.
Image from umterps.com
Starting this newsletter by wondering how Florida State defensive end Jared Verse ended up at SUNY Albany before heading to Tallahassee this season…congratulations to the Seminoles, by the way. What a way to close a crazy Week 1. Looking forward to see how former Bull Dylan McDuffie performs against Clemson on Monday night.
Takeaways from Week 1: A Surprisingly Upbeat 21-Point Loss
Anyhow—as you likely know by now, the University at Buffalo football team (0-1) lost its season opener to Maryland (1-0), 31-10, in College Park on Saturday afternoon. While not ideal—particularly if what appeared to be a non-contact injury to nickel back Keyshawn Cobb’s left knee is serious—the game showed how far this team has come since we saw the 2021 season fizzle out with a 20-3 loss to Ball State.
The Terrapins, currently 38th in ESPN’s Football Power Index, won this game thanks to timely explosive plays (10+ yard runs, 20+ yard passes) rather than 60 minutes of dominance. Buffalo ran 72 plays for 268 yards and scored 10 points; Maryland ran 11 fewer plays but racked up 446 yards and 31 points. In football, as in life, big chunks of real estate matter.
Image from skyboat.org
UM’s first offensive play of the game was a 25-yard hookup between star quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and All-Big 10 receiver Rakim Jarrett. Four plays later, running back Roman Hemby banged in a 33-yard touchdown run.
Early in the second quarter, Maryland’s Anthony Littleton II took advantage of a short field, cashing in a two-yard touchdown run set up by his 21-yard scamper on the previous play, giving the home team a 14-0 lead.
On the Terrapins’ next drive, the advantage grew to 17-0 courtesy of a 45-yard field goal from former Eastern Michigan kicker Chad Ryland. The key play of the scoring drive was a 35-yard reception by receiver Jeshaun Jones.
After UB closed the first half strong with its own explosive play—a 19-yard touchdown run by Al-Jay Henderson—Hemby sparked the second half with a 70-yard touchdown jaunt courtesy of an absolutely gaping hole opened by UM’s behemoth offensive line, expanding the Terrapins’ lead to 24-7.
Littleton’s two-yard touchdown run at 13:49 of the fourth quarter gave Maryland a 31-7 lead, and was made possible by a 35-yard dagger from Tagovailoa to Jarrett on a 4th-and-3 play from Buffalo’s 44-yard line.
On one hand, a loss is a loss.
On the other, allowing a half-dozen explosive plays to a Big 10 squad with what’s expected to be one of the top 15 offenses in the country—especially considering the Bulls gave up, on average, a dozen such plays per game to its Mid-American Conference foes just a year ago—is a gigantic leap forward.
“(We) competed 60 minutes-plus, and that's not a surprise,” Bulls head coach Maurice Linguist said after the game. “You have to do it, to show that and to prove that, but (we) played strong in a manner that I thought (we) were going to play.
“I thought we had some key third-down stops that kept us within striking distance. Obviously, the big letdown (was) coming out of halftime with (Hemby’s) long run. Credit to Maryland for executing and breaking off the long run—that was a big blow for us—but we responded well. I’m proud of how our guys competed, proud of this team, and I really feel like we’ve got a lot of substance to us.”
Could-Have-Beens and Cleaning It Up
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Buffalo linebacker James Patterson, who recorded six tackles and made a critical stop for a loss to help stymy a promising Maryland drive just before halftime, talked about how to clean up those big plays.
“Just thinking on the fly,” he said. “They did a lot of motion, stuff like that. They did things where it looked like it was a pass, but it was a run block. You just have to really think on the fly and do your job. Everything is always not going to be perfect, so when things are not perfect, you have to find a way to put the ball down. Live to fight another down.”
Similarly, the UB offense’s day could have looked much different were it not for a handful of plays and decisions that spiked its own drives.
A holding penalty on 2nd-and-10 from the Maryland 35 midway through the second quarter turned the situation into 2nd-and-20 from the 45, and two Cole Snyder (pictured above) passes for 14 yards led to Alex McNulty missing a 49-yard field goal attempt from the 31-yard line.
Should Buffalo have gone for it on 4th-and-6 that early in the game? Snyder looked like he was warming up. Did the Bulls lose a chance to grab the Terps by the shell?
When McNulty missed a 44-yard attempt from the UM 25-yard line early in the second quarter on 4th-and-7, an offsides call gave UB 4th-and-2 from Maryland 20. The subsequent shovel pass to running back Ron Cook—who had a tough game in his Washington, D.C. homecoming—seemed a little off script, and he ended up a yard short.
The score was 14-0 at the time. What happens if Buffalo cashes that drive in?
Other Bulls drives had less dramatic inflection points, and turned instead on the little things that’ll occur in early-season games with a quarterback who’d never started a Division 1 game, playing with receivers who’d never worn a UB uniform, and linemen who are playing as a unit for the first time.
A fumbled snap. A missed timing route. A blown block. These are things that kill wins. But these are not talent issues; these are comfort issues. The comfort should come.
Blue Collar Means Never Quitting
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Snyder finished a pedestrian 16 of 34 for 160 yards in his Buffalo debut and was sacked four times. But he also threw for the same number of touchdowns as Tagovailoa—zero—and didn’t turn the ball over, which Taulia did.
Snyder also showed legit courage. He ran for 55 yards (the sacks lowered his net total to 16 yards), including a 17-yard scramble on 3rd-and-11 on the second quarter drive that stalled on the UM 20. He also ripped a 19-yard pass down the heart of the field to Cole Hannity to keep the touchdown drive alive when it was in danger of sputtering in Bulls territory.
And—you can argue if this was brave or foolhardy—Snyder repeatedly went after Terrapins’ cornerback Jakorian Bennett, the All Big-10 defensive back who led the conference in pass breakups in 2021. Bennett, to his credit, looked the part, and made a series of strong plays to singlehandedly, at times, stop the UB passing game.
Snyder, however, showed no fear, and found nine different receivers over the course of the game. At the end of the day, people were wondering why Tagovailoa looked shakier than expected, and the young quarterback and his teammates could go home satisfied that they’d played hard, but hungry in the knowledge that the gap between their squad—currently 100th in the FPI—and a team with visions of a Big 10 East title on its mind wasn’t as far as outside observers may think.
“There was some good and there was some bad,” Snyder said. “We do have a lot of fight in this team, and it was great to see guys going all the way to the end and just really giving it their all, no matter what the score was. Obviously, we didn't get the outcome we wanted to, but I mean, it's a good judgment to see where we're at with all these new guys coming together. We can't point fingers at anybody. We just got to keep going together as a team.”
Breaking Good, Breaking Bad
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GOOD: The Buffalo defense made its stand of the game late in the second quarter, shutting down a Maryland drive that started with 3:03 on the clock and seemed destined for the end zone.
Up 17-7, the Terrapins moved to the Bulls’ 41-yard line with 59 seconds remaining when Linguist called a timeout.
On first down, Tagovailoa found Cory Dyches for a nine-yard gain. Not great, but the arm tackle made by defensive back Elijah Blades—the Florida transfer also had a beautiful pass breakup in the game that was negated by a UB penalty—prevented the tight end from making the first down. Last season, this was type of play that would’ve resulted in a broken tackle, an explosive gain, and maybe a backbreaking touchdown. Instead, the defender did the job.
On second down, Patterson popped through to stuff Hemby at the line of scrimmage. No gain.
On third down, Tagovailoa was pressed out of the pocket and his pass on the run for Dontay Demus was broken up by Blades.
On fourth down, Hemby ran into a brick wall named Jaylon Bass at defensive tackle, and was heaved to the ground from behind by Keyshawn Cobb.
On the day, the Bulls held UM to four-for-13 on third down.
“I think we did a very good job on the things that we had to do (at times),” Patterson said, “but to play a complete game, you can't really let up, you can't lose focus. Things like that. We really prepared for this and we really wanted it, but some things happen, so I think we have to prepare harder and better.”
BAD: UB had a few critical late-down situations blow up in their faces. In the second quarter, Buffalo’s two possessions were snuffed on a 3rd-and-4 sack and a one-yard gain on 4th-and-2. Drives also ended on second half 3rd-and-2 and 4th-and-3 mishaps. On the game, the Bulls were five of 16 on third downs and 0 for two on fourth. That’s not great.
GOOD: After years of Branden Oliver, Anthone Taylor, Jaret Patterson, Kevin Marks, and Dylan McDuffie, UB—for the first time since James Starks left campus after the 2008 season—is without a clear bell cow in the backfield. The good news is that youngsters Mike Washington (34 yards, 4.1 yards per carry) and Al-Jay Henderson (27 yards, 6.8 yards per carry, one touchdown) showed flashes on Saturday. Henderson had his electric touchdown run, in which he pounded through contact on the left side of the line before breaking outside for a 19-yard score, and Washington battered his way to a 13-yard run on a third down carry. Snyder also broke off a 17 yard run.
Image from skyboat.org
BAD: It just wasn’t a great day for Ron Cook (pictured above). Cook carried 15 times for 38 yards, caught two passes for 15 yards, and the third-team All-MAC returner never got his hands on a kick.
A bittersweet afternoon for a young man who was playing against Rakim Jarrett and Colby McDonald—former high school classmates from D.C. powerhouse St. John’s College—but not without joy.
“It was fun, actually,” Cook said. “It felt like I was back in high school, playing around with those guys again, getting to see their faces and being on the field with them. It was like backyard football, almost. It was a fun experience.”
GOOD: If you’ve read UB In 5 for, oh, the last few paragraphs, you’ll know we’re prone to railing against the performance of last year’s secondary. Without getting into the ugly stats, let’s just say it was disappointing. The defensive backfield was a point of emphasis in Linguist’s offseason recruiting, and new additions like Cobb, Blades, Jahmin Muse, Caleb Offord, Solomon Brown, Jayden Oliver, and others turned what looked like the worst unit on the field in 2021 into a potential strength—on paper.
Well, paper turned into performance on Saturday. The secondary held Tagovailoa without a touchdown pass for the first time since his first Maryland start two years ago. Safety Marcus Fuqua snagged an interception on a play that clearly fooled the heralded signal caller.
“You know, need to get that interception back there where they disguised their coverage,” UM head coach Mike Locksley said after the game. “He thought they opened the middle of the field up and they did a really good job on the disguise and what we talked about is, he's got to confirm the coverage. And not just pre-snap [and] make a decision, but those are all things that are correctable and we'll get those things corrected this week."
Tagovailoa finished with 290 passing yards, a shade under his 296-yard per-game average in 2021. While Jarrett posted an impressive six-catch, 110-yard performance, 86 of his yards came after the catch—Taulia wasn’t getting him the ball deep, in other words—and his highly-touted receiving mates Demus (three catches, 23 yards) and Florida transfer Jacob Copeland (one catch, six yards) were essentially non-factors.
BAD: If Keyshawn Cobb is seriously injured, that’s really bad. We here at UB In 5 are not medical experts, but it looked like the talented juco transfer blew out his left knee. We wish him the best and hope we’re 100 percent wrong.
Although Buffalo’s defensive line was very strong at some points—the fourth down stop, Daymond Williams’ violent sack of Tagovailoa in the second quarter—there were also moments when the run stoppers evaporated, like on Hemby’s 70-yard touchdown run. You or I could have picked up a first down with the hole that opened up. That touchdown, coming after the dramatic stop to end the half, and with the game still within a reasonable 10 points, was like a cold shower on Valentine’s Day.
GOOD: Love the all-white uniforms, and especially the white helmets with the blue Bull logo. If you know where to buy a white helmet, let us know on Twitter! Very much want one for the UB In 5 home office.
BAD: While Maryland Stadium is a charming spot, the opening day crowd was…less than engaged.
Image from @ub_in_5
That photo above was taken from the press box early in the third quarter. Granted, it wasn’t a super-close game, and Buffalo’s not, say Michigan State, but seriously? We were expecting more from a Big 10 stadium and a school with a fairly decent football history.
Ah, well. On to Holy Cross! The Bulls open their home slate on Saturday at 6 p.m. when the FCS squad arrives on North Campus. The game will be televised on ESPN+. A preview of the surprisingly frisky Crusaders to come later this week.
Learning from Coach Mo
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While Linguist may be, at times, a prime example of a coach who speaks at length without revealing anything of substance (it’s a skill!), he is most compelling when he breaks down the inside elements of the game. It’s a look into the mind of a football intellectual who’s been involved with some of the top people and programs in the country. Here are a couple interesting quotes on defensive strategy from Coach Mo’s postgame presser on what he saw at Capital One Field.
On pressuring the quarterback:
They have legitimate outside threats at receiver. We knew they were going to push the ball down the field. We won a couple of those footballs, and a couple of those 50-50 balls, they won as well.
But then you’ve got to rush. You have to be able to manipulate the quarterback, get him off his spot. You got to be able to hit the quarterback—within clean playing—and then you got to be able to attack the arm of the quarterback, and try to force fumbles.
We had some times where there were some scramble plays, where we felt like we created a little bit of hesitation in their throw game, but on a consistent down in and down out basis? I’ve got to watch the tape and then we'll make whatever adjustments we have to make to get ourselves prepared for next week.
On creating stress:
So much of defensive football is space. So much of it as timing, So much of it is where are you moving the stress from player to player. When I go to pull safety spacing on defense, and it's three-by-one, well, that boundary corner has a lot of the stress to him. When I cloud that boundary receiver because maybe he's the big target, now we're maybe moving the stress to the field corner, to the slot receiver, because we're in shell cover, so you're looking at the back and forth, and that's the cat and mouse of the game—where you're moving the stress, and then being able to dictate things on your terms, where you create pressure, how you isolate past rushers, and then how you ultimately create takeaways and get third down stops.
Around the MAC: Week 1
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How did our fellow MAC members fair in Week 1? By and large, not great.
#12 Oklahoma State 58, Central Michigan 44. The Cowboys’ star QB Spencer Sanders threw for six touchdowns on the Chippewas. CMU’s ferocious running back Lew Nichols III was held to 72 yards on 26 carries, although he did punch in a couple touchdowns.
Akron 30, St. Francis (Pa.) 23. The Zips needed overtime to put away an FCS team in heralded new coach Joe Moorhead’s debut. D.J. Irons threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns in the win, while Pitt transfer Shocky Jacques-Louis caught eight balls for 102 yards.
Tennessee 59, Ball State 10. The Cardinals took one on the chin from the SEC bluebloods. New quarterback John Paddock, replacing longtime signal caller Drew Plitt, threw for 269 yards and a touchdown. He was picked off twice.
Toledo 37, Long Island University 0. Let’s hear it for Rockets’ QB Dequan Finn! Twenty-one for 28, 216 passing yards, and two passing touchdowns plus 64 rushing yards on 12 carries and another TD. Let’s get a Heisman campaign going for this guy. I am not kidding.
Northern Illinois 34, Eastern Illinois 27. The FCS Panthers outscored the defending MAC champs 21-13 in the second half, which was probably not among head coach Thomas Hammock’s “best case” scenarios for this game. A win’s a win!
#15 Michigan State 35, Western Michigan 13. Pretty mundane opener for the Broncos. New QB Jack Salopek, replacing pro hopeful Kaleb Eleby, threw for 193 yards and rushed for 36. Star WMU running back Sean Tyler was held to 68 yards while his backfield mate/former Spartan La’Darius Jefferson only tallied 31.
Eastern Michigan 42, Eastern Kentucky 34. Like a bad horror movie villain, the FCS Colonels would not go away, scoring 24 in the second half. The Eagles kept pouring on the points, however, racking up 36 over the final three quarters, and eventually EKU wilted.
#20 Kentucky 37, Miami 13. This was a 13-10 Wildcats lead at the half before the home team blew it open with a 17-3 third quarter. Brett Gabbert threw for 168 yards in the loss.
UCLA 45, Bowling Green 17. In a game about as well-attended as the Buffalo-Maryland showdown, the Falcons trailed by a lone touchdown at the half before the Bruins ground out the win. I was listening to this game on the way home from the UB-UM game and the BGSU announcers were actively encouraging Bowling Green to give up in the second half to avoid fatigue and injuries in the L.A. heat. That’s the ol’ Scot Loeffler spirit! In other news, top Falcons RB Terion Stewart is sitting out the season to concentrate on his academics and mental health. That’s actually a pretty brave move.
Ohio 41, Florida Atlantic 38. This may have sneakily been the best game no one talked about this weekend. Seriously, check out the highlights. And calling Bobcats QB Kurtis Rourke (an Oakville Ontario native) “the Maple Missile?” Consider it stolen, Ayden Crowley!
Washington 45, Kent State 20. The Huskies took out some aggression from a terrible 2021—”12 games of crippling injuries, unfathomable losses including a 13-7 upset to Montana that day and an in-season coaching change on the way to a 4-8 season — incredible misery, now that you think about it,” as SI.com’s Dan Raley put it—and the pending dismemberment of the PAC-12 on visiting Kent State. The Golden Flashes’ “We’re Doing It For the Money” non-conference slate of pain opened by immediately falling behind 21-7 in the first quarter and 31-10 by halftime. Wide receiver Dante Cephas caught six passes for 105 yards in the loss.
NEXT UP: Some sleep, and eventually a Holy Cross preview.
Thank God tomorrow’s Labor Day. Horns up, everyone.