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3 SCENARIOS FOR UB'S SEASON OPENER AT MARYLAND
The good, the bad, and the upset. Plus: Recruiting the D.C. region is the other big game this weekend.
Buffalo heads to Maryland tomorrow as a 24-point underdog.
This is not shocking.
The Terrapins, dark horses for the Big 10 East title, are feeling themselves.
It’s a new culture in College Park: Maryland won the Pinstripe Bowl in 2021 for its first bowl win since a Military Bowl victory over East Carolina in 2010. The 54-10 victory over Virgina Tech capped the Terrapins’ first plus-.500 season in since 2014. UM’s currently #37 in the ESPN Football Power Index.
The Terps bring back sensational junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to lead what was the nation’s #13 passing offense. Tagovailoa threw for 3,860 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, vaulting him into the pantheon of Maryland quarterbacks alongside the likes of Scott Milanovich, Boomer Esiason, and Alan Pastrana.
Maryland returns all five of last season’s starting offensive linemen in the fold (see below) and a defense which, while spotty—the second-worst scoring defense in the Big 10—has all-conference talent in Jakorian Bennett and Tarheeb Still at the corners.
UM’s trio of hotshot receivers—including All-Big 10 wideouts Rakim Jarrett and Dontay Demus, and Florida transfer Jacob Copeland—may be as dangerous as any in the country.
The Bulls, on the other hand, are an unknown quantity.
Losers of eight games in head coach Maurice Linguist’s unconventional first season (he took the job in May after Lance Leipold bolted for Kansas), UB overhauled a transfer-thinned roster with the Mid-American Conference’s top recruiting class and a bevy of three-star Power 5 transfers.
The team, save a handful of holdovers, is sporting a starting lineup that’s essentially brand new at quarterback, o-line, wide receiver, cornerback, and safety.
What can we expect when the Bulls line up against Maryland on Saturday at noon at Maryland Stadium?
There are three potential scenarios.
1. The Blowout
Image from bgsufalcons.com
Exhibit A: Maryland’s 37-16 win over Kent State last season. The Terrapins built a 28-point lead over the Bulls’ MAC rivals courtesy of three Tagovailoa touchdown passes and a pair of Tayon Fleet-Davis scoring runs (Fleet-Davis was recently cut by the Kansas City Chiefs) before coasting to its fourth win.
The difference, besides the Golden Flashes’ sputtering offense, was UM’s 10 explosive plays (10+ yards rushing, 20+ yards passing). Two resulted directly in touchdown, and a third led to a touchdown one play later.
And this was a game UM didn’t consider a strong performance.
"We're disappointed,” said Terrapins coach Michael Locksley after the win. “We've got a locker room full of guys that are happy we won, but not happy with the way we played.”
How does UB avoid the blowout? Limit those explosive plays.
Easier said than done against this powerful offense, which set a school record last season with 3,960 passing yards.
Conversely, Buffalo allowed 149 plays of 20 yards or more. That’s over 12 per game, among the worst in the country—we’re talking Arkansas State territory.
“A big piece of college football and its success is explosive plays,” Linguist said in his Tuesday press conference. “And if you look at the rate of explosive plays to the operation and the success of an offense, and to the success of a team, those things go hand in hand. Limiting and eliminating those explosive plays on defense and creating those explosive plays on offense.”
There are a couple ways the Bulls can achieve this, defensively.
Shut ‘Em Down
Image from bceagles.com
The first is a revamped starting secondary:
Sophomore cornerback Logic Hudgens played in five games for UB last season before he was injured. His highlight was picking off a Grayson McCall pass in the end zone against Coastal Carolina—one of only three Buffalo INTs in 2021.
Cornerback Caleb Offord, a Notre Dame transfer who’s been battling doubters since he left Southaven High School in Southaven, Mississippi as a three-star prospect and then-Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly’s first recruit from the The Magnolia State.
Boston College transfer Jahmin Muse (pictured above), a proven leader and an 11-game starter in 2020.
Hard-hitting safety Marcus Fuqua, a seven-game starter who recorded multiple 10-tackle games.
Nickel back Keyshawn Cobb, a three-star recruit, Georgia all-state first-team selection, and former junior college All-American.
Behind the starters are four-star Florida transfer Elijah Blades, three-star Minnesota transfer Solomon Brown, and highly-regarded youngsters Jayden Oliver, Devin Grant, and Dylan Powell.
Here’s the problem: this is next-level offensive talent that’s been tested against the best.
Tagovailoa is a sneaky preseason Heisman Trophy candidate.
Jarrett is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list, won the Maryland receiving triple crown (led the team with 62 receptions for 829 yards and five touchdowns) in 2021, and was top 10 in the Big 10 in those three major receiving categories.
Demus was a three-time Big 10 honorable mention at receiver, even last year, when he missed all but five games with injury.
Copeland put in four years at Florida before transferring to UM, starting 22 games for the Gators.
So what’s that second option?
Lock ‘Em Up
Image from gopack.com
The second way to prevent explosive plays is to dominate the point of attack. The UB defensive line should be able to do just that against most opponents.
Defensive tackle Daymond Williams is an Outland Trophy candidate. Impact defensive end Ibrahim Kante (pictured above), a North Carolina State transfer who recorded three sacks for the Wolfpack, apparently tore up summer practices.
Fellow linemen Max Michel (Wuerffel Trophy watch list, 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2021), C.J. Bazile (30 tackles, blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown), Daishon Folsom (19 tackles, two sacks), George Wolo (10-game starter, 2.5 sacks), and Kyler Laing (eight tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) aeach proved their value for Buffalo in 2021. Jaylon Bass, a transfer from Kansas juco powerhouse Hutchinson Community College, could be another star.
But, of course, Maryland’s not Central Michigan, or Kent State, or Northern Illinois—MAC teams with strong d-lines. While the one weakness on the UM offense may be at running back, Buffalo’s trench warriors will have their work cut out against the formidable Maryland front five—a few of whom will likely have jobs on Sundays in the near future.
Playing multiple positions along the offensive line last season, (senior captain Spencer) Anderson (6 feet 5, 320 pounds) earned a pass-blocking grade of 86.6 from Pro Football Focus, the highest among tackles in the Big Ten and third nationally among tackles with at least 500 snaps.
Over 516 snaps while pass blocking, Anderson has yielded one sack thanks to textbook footwork and other sound fundamentals that have made him a coveted NFL prospect. So too has his durability been underscored by 18 consecutive starts, matching senior center Johari Branch for the longest active streak on the team.
The rest of the starting offensive line includes two players also from the state of Maryland in left guard Mason Lunsford (Olney) and left tackle Jaelyn Duncan (New Carrollton), who has drawn considerable interest from NFL scouts.
Duncan (6-6, 326 pounds) twice has been voted honorable mention all-Big Ten and last year was a projected first-round pick, according to ESPN. Charged with protecting Tagovailoa’s blind side, the redshirt senior has started 27 games over his career, the most among active Maryland players.
It’s entirely possible the Bulls’ defense takes a great leap forward, and still gets flattened by Maryland. We’ll see.
The Moral Victory
Image from ubbulls.com
Exhibit B: Central Michigan faced #12 Oklahoma State in Stillwater last night, and acquitted themselves reasonably well.
Down 51-15 in the third quarter, the Chippewas battled back to cover the spread and close out a respectable 58-44 loss.
“As I said from the beginning, I really like our football team," Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain said. "We’re going to win a lot of games. And those kids are going to learn from this video and we’re going to get a little bit better.”
Central Michigan outscored Oklahoma State 29-14 in the second half and outgained the Cowboys 281 yards to 138 after the break.
“It’s credit to those kids," McElwain said. “Since we’ve been here and started to establish the program, there’s a certain mentality it takes to be a Chippewa. And these guys have started to understand a little bit what that is.”
Daniel Richardson passed for a career-high 424 yards and threw four touchdown passes for Central Michigan. Lew Nichols III, the nation's leading rusher last year, ran for 72 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
It’s not impossible for UB to cover the spread and even put a little jolt into their hosts.
Buffalo’s new quarterback, Cole Snyder, is no stranger to Big 10 competition. Snyder, a Rutgers transfer, was 12-for-17 with a touchdown pass and 110 passing yards in back-to-back appearances against Ohio State and Michigan State last season. He’s also lined up against Penn State, Wisconsin, and Illinois in his Big 10 career. Snyder torched his own teammates in the 2021 Scarlet and White Game.
Wide receiver Justin Marshall, a Louisville transfer, went for 151 combined receiving yards in road games against Florida State, Wake Forest, and North Carolina State last year.
Starting tackle Desmond Bessent transfers in from San Diego State, where he saw action in conference championships, bowl games, and Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium, one of the 30 loudest stadiums in college football and where “the camera-shaking thing” is a regular occurrence.
Bulls’ starters Robbie Mangas (tight end), Nick Hartnett (o-line), Ron Cook (running back) and guard Gabe Wallace (o-line) are deep into their collegiate careers. They’ve seen some stuff. They shouldn’t be rattled.
Hell, guys like Cobb and Offord, who played and excelled on Friday nights in the Deep South, have probably seen crazier environments then what Capital One Field has to offer.
“It goes back to your own preparation,” Linguist said. “We’re going to be who we are. We’re very confident in what we feel our offense, defense and special teams identity are. We’re not going to change who we are. We’re very confident in who we are. We’re not going to change our identity going into the game.”
Buffalo has 19 players from Maryland, Washington D.C., or Virginia on its roster. This is a big homecoming event for players like star linebacker James Patterson, a native of the Baltimore suburbs.
“It’s like you’re a little kid, all over again,” Patterson told The Buffalo News. “Your first game as a little kid, you get the pads, you get the helmet, you get the game jersey, and that’s how it feels. Especially for me, because this is my last season and I’ve got to cherish it a little more.”
Think this game is big to cornerback Logic Hudgens? He’s making his first career start 45 minutes from Severn, Maryland, his hometown.
Does he wants Jarrett—a star from nearby Palmer Park, Maryland—to stunt on him?
Think this game is big to running back Ron Cook, a Washington, D.C. native who spent his high school career at St. John’s in Jarrett’s four-star shadow? Whose backfield mate, running back Colby McDonald, is currently fighting to establish himself as the man for Maryland?
Absolutely not. And that list goes on and on.
“We have double digit guys from the Maryland area on this roster,” Linguist said. “It’s a big recruiting area for us.”
More on this below, but this isn’t just another Group of 5 / Power 5 death match—this one’s for hometown pride.
The Absolute Shocker
Image from buffalonews.com
Exhibit C: Northern Illinois beat Georgia Tech, 22-21, in the opening week of 2021.
What did NIU have? A Big 10 transfer at quarterback. A stout, no-name defense. A coach with, well, stones.
These are all qualities we look for in the Bulls this season.
Is a win probable? Honestly, no. But is it impossible?
Recruiting in the DMV: An Update
Image from washington.org
Last season, we wrote about the importance of the Buffalo-Old Dominion game in a brewing recruiting war. At the time, the Bulls had 14 players from the Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia region on its 2021 roster, and ODU had 60.
This season, the Bulls have 19, and the Monarchs have 80. Give UB another six if you count the Philadelphia metro region, which about the same distance from College Park as Buffalo is to Syracuse.
Or Gonzaga in Washington, D.C.
Or St. Frances Academy in Baltimore.
Or Westlake High School in Waldorf, Maryland.
Or Hopewell High, just south of Richmond, Virginia.
Hopewell, for instance, is the home of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Murdock, a three-star prospect who was part of the undefeated 2019 Class 3 state champs with Ohio State Heisman Trophy candidate TreVeyon Henderson.
Kameron Olds, a 6’4, 245-pound prospect from Midlothian High School in Midlothian, Va., is close friends with Ramon Brown, a four-star Maryland running back who went to rival Manchester High School. They both grew up about a three-hour drive from College Park.
Image from theathletic.com
Only five Group of Five schools have more recruits from Maryland, D.C., and Virginia then Buffalo—Old Dominion, James Madison (pictured above), East Carolina, Liberty, and Navy.
East Carolina’s only a two-hour drive from the Hampton Roads recruiting hotbed. Navy’s in Annapolis, 45 minutes from D.C., home to the sons of the greatest concentration of overachieving military men and women in the country. Liberty, located in Lynchburg, Va., has invested heavily in its football program over the past decade—best symbolized by Malik Willis, the dynamic Flames quarterback who was selected in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
ODU and JMU are state schools, so they’re going to get Virginia kids.
Monarchs coach Ricky Rahne is staking his strategy for Old Dominion on D.C.-area recruits and winning Virginia; so far, it’s worked. He took ODU to a bowl game in his first season.
The Dukes jumping up to Division 1 after dominating at the FCS level. The JMU brand in Virginia is strong—its grads are everywhere, and they were damn proud of their football team’s dominance of the Colonial Athletic Association and its 2016 national title.
In short, the Group of 5 competition for talent from the region is fierce—and that’s before you include Power 5 schools like Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, North Carolina, and so on.
Image from latimes.com
Buffalo tight end Robbie Mangas played a sesson with a kid by the name of Caleb Williams at Gonzaga in D.C. You may have heard of him.
"Any time we go back to an area where we have a recruiting footprint, and be visible, and not just be visible but have success—even looking at last year, going down to ODU and having that success on the road—those things help, because there’s a ripple effect that is sent from player to player really from a recruiting level,” Linguist acknowledged. “‘Hey, man, did you see what Buffalo did? Did you see what those guys did on TV?’ Or maybe in person, even. So we know from a recruiting standpoint, every time we’re on TV, every time we’re in a footprint that is geographical to an area that we recruit, we knows it’s important for us to play well.”
UB to Honor Buffalo Shooting Victims with Jersey Patch
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Class move by the school. From UBBulls.com:
The University at Buffalo will honor the victims of the tragic racially motivated mass shooting that occurred at a Tops market in Buffalo on May 14, 2022 by wearing "Stronger Together" patches on select uniforms and helmet stickers this season, UB Vice President and Director of Athletics Mark Alnutt announced on Thursday. The patch was originally created by UB's Stronger Together Task Force, in September 2020, as part of its mission to combat racism and shed light on the social injustices across the nation.
"I am honored to work with this group and want to thank them for their commitment to bettering our department, University and community," said Alnutt. "As one of our core values in our Athletic Department, we are committed to sustaining a culture of diversity and inclusion across all dimensions, and we proudly embrace and promote equality for all. Through sports, we have an amazing platform and will work together to discuss, educate, plan and implement action items while creating a more inclusive and tolerant community."
We will always remember the names and salute the lives of: Ruth Whitfield, Roberta Drury, Aaron Salter, Heyward Patterson, Geraldine Talley, Celestine Chaney, Katherine Massey, Margus Morrison, Andre Mackneil and Pearl Young, who was an alumna of UB.
UP NEXT: The Recap
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We’ll see how it goes. Horns up, everyone. Let’s shake up the world.
Congrats to former UB cornerback Ja’Marcus Ingram, visible in the foreground of this photo, for making the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad this preseason.