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WEEK 2: HOLY CROSS V. BUFFALO PREVIEW
Plus: Today's Depth Chart, Marcus Fuqua DPOTW, and the MAC Slate
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In a year in which everything seems to be flying by (never get old, kids!), it’s hard to believe we’re here—past the Maryland game and ready to celebrate the University at Buffalo football team’s 6 p.m. home opener against FCS Holy Cross (1-0).1
The Crusaders enter the contest fresh off a 31-17 victory over in-state rival Merrimack, a game in which the kings of New England held the visiting Warriors to 280 total yards, including a mere 81 yards on the ground.
Since this week’s preview is egregiously late, let’s get right into the game.
Should We Really Be Worried About Holy Cross?
Image from goholycross.com
If you listen to Bulls head coach Maurice Linguist, yes. From his Tuesday press conference:
We have a very well-coached team in Holy Cross coming in here. Head coach Bob Chesney, and the success that they’ve had with back-to-back double-digit winning seasons in the last two years of their program, winning their league title two or three years in a row…There’s a lot of continuity on their staff. Offensive coordinator (Chris Smith) is from (Buffalo), I know his dad (Jerry Smith)—he’s over at St. Francis as well—and a lot of respect for defensive coordinator Scott James, and the front, and the the defensive pictures that they present. I think they are well-coached on special teams, I think they play extremely hard. It’s a program that’s used to winning, and we know they’re going to come in here extremely prepared.
Holy Cross, a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, has won three consecutive Patriot League titles and picked off Sacred Heart in the first round of the 2021 playoffs. Here’s how the Crusaders, currently ranked 10th in the FCS, opened it season against Merrimack:
The Crusaders (1-0) totaled 502 yards of offense and did not punt once. Junior quarterback Matthew Sluka totaled 242 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns in the air, while also rushing for 102 yards and another touchdown. Junior wide receiver Jalen Coker had three receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown; senior receiver Ayir Asante's three receptions on the night were good for 58 yards and a touchdown. Senior running back Peter Oliver finished with 73 rushing yards. Senior kicker Derek Ng made three field goals for Holy Cross.
Defensively…senior safety Walter Reynolds had a 12-yard interception return while also adding in a 14-yard tackle for loss and two pass breakups. Senior defensive end Jake Reichwein recorded a sack for a loss of six yards.
“The Crusaders have won their last 11 games against PL opponents (note the 2020 PL championship game win over Bucknell, played in spring 2021, isn’t part of a 10-game league winning streak), with last season’s average margin of victory in league games a whopping 29.5 points,” writes Craig Haley of theanalyst.com. “Linebackers Jacob Dobbs (137 tackles, 9.5 sacks) and Liam Anderson (81 tackles, 7.5 sacks, three interceptions) form a fierce duo on defense, and the offense boasts the 1-2 rushing duo of quarterback Matthew Sluka (868 yards, 14 touchdowns) and running back Peter Oliver (780, four).”
Caesar’s currently has UB as -6 favorites (although I’ve seen as high as -12), which is shows the level of respect Holy Cross demands. The Crusaders beat FBS UConn last season, 38-28, in Storrs last season, proving they don’t necessarily get pushed around by the big boys.
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Now: Take a Deep Breath.
Image from gatorswire.usatoday.com
There are absolutely reasons to be wary of the Crusaders. However, keep in mind:
Holy Cross has zero two-star players. The Bulls have 10.
Holy Cross has zero four-star players. The Bulls have two.
While the games are not won in recruiting….they kind of are. Athletically, the Bulls will be the best team The Crusaders see all season. Yes, the Holy Cross offensive line starters weigh an average of 301 pounds per man, and the top defensive line unit pushes 272 pounds. That does not mean they’re the better players.
The Crusaders beat UConn last season. The Huskies were 1-11 in 2021, and gave up 38 or more points in eight games (all losses). Its lone win came over Yale, a team that was a game over .500 in the Ivy League.
The last time Holy Cross played Division 1 competition was 2019, and was thoroughly spanked by Navy (45-7) and Syracuse (41-3)—both of whom were, admittedly, pretty good that season (particularly the 11-2 Mids).
UB is supposed to be pretty good this season, too—at least we think so. Good enough to handle a tough FCS squad. Our money’s on Buffalo.
The Starting Lineup
Here are your Week 2 Bulls:
Excellent to see Keyshawn Cobb and Jahmin Muse are back in the lineup after getting dinged against Maryland. Four-star Florida transfer Elijah Blades (pictured above), who made a number of strong plays at cornerback last week, also vaulted Notre Dame transfer Caleb Offord into the starting lineup.
Blow It Up?
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Quarterback Cole Snyder (pictured above) hit nine different receivers last week; expect a lot of different combinations on offense, especially as UB tries to find more explosive plays.
From Coach Linguist:
I think that was probably one of the biggest differentiating factors in the game, in terms of how many explosive plays Maryland created, and how many we had. It’s something that’s been a big point of emphasis this week…
I think Cole Snyder did an outstanding job of ball placement. Maryland’s DBs made a couple plays where they made, at the last possible second, that last swipe of the ball, right as our receivers were going down to cause those pass breakups. But we did a good job with our vertical spacing and our outside throw game and our timing. Coming down with those 50-50 balls and those contested catches is a big point of emphasis for us. We were able to create some separation, now we got to come down and make those catches. Got to make sure we are strong in protection, and give Cole the time, let him go through his progressions and his reads to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers…
There’s a healthy sweet spot to be in, in terms of being aggressive. If the throws are there, take the throws. If they’re giving you the flat, you go ahead and take it. But we know, to be successful in addition to the run game, in addition to protecting the ball, in addition to playing penalty-free, we have to create those explosive plays. We have to create the chunk yardage plays. In our game against Maryland, a lot of the game came down to those things.
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Marcus Fuqua, MAC East Defensive Player of the Week
Image from skyboat.org
This must be sweet validation for the young man from Southfield, Michigan. Marcus was a member of the much-maligned (looks in mirror) Bulls secondary in 2021, the one that ranked 100th in Division 1 in terms of giving up plays of 30 yards or more while picking off just three passes. He retained his starting role at safety this season despite legions of transfers and new recruits piling into the UB defensive backfield to supplant him.
Fuqua, a hard hitter, made four tackles, snagged an interception, and broke up a pass last week.
“I know sometimes you don’t believe me, but we saw Fuqua do a great job in the offseason of handling his responsibilities from a day-in, day-out basis,” Linguist told the press. “He took those over from the offseason to the spring. His level of play raised in the spring—we mentioned that back in March and April. Then he had a tremendous summer training session, and a tremendous training camp, we mentioned that in August, about the camp that he had, and he comes away with defensive player of the week. The growth mindset continues…We recognize the development that is taking place in our locker room with a guy like Marcus Fuqua, who played a big role for us last year. We had to raise his level of play, and he did that.”
Today’s MAC Schedule:
Image from ohiobobcats.com
Ohio at Penn State. This game’s already started! Jump on Kurtis Rourke (pictured above) and that Ohio +28 point line if you still can.
Akron at #14 Michigan State. The Zips struggled to take out St. Francis (Pa.) last week. Pray for Coach Joe Moorhead’s squad.
Kent State at #7 Oklahoma. After getting bombed by Washington last week, the Golden Flashes get a bounce-back game against (checks notes)…Oklahoma. Oh, my. Certainly it can’t get tougher than this (checks schedule). Oh…oh, no.
South Alabama at Central Michigan. Always love a Sun Belt-MAC matchup. The Jaguars were a bit of a sieve on defense last season, which should make this one even more entertaining.
Western Michigan at Ball State. The Broncos got slugged in the stomach by big brother Michigan State last week, and the Cardinals were squashed by Tennessee in Knoxville. Interesting to see the first MAC-on-MAC action of the season.
Eastern Kentucky at Bowling Green. After a steamy trip to Los Angeles last weekend, the Falcons must now from a loss to UCLA with an FCS #23 EKU squad that gave Eastern Michigan fits before the Eagles pulled out an eight-point win.
Robert Morris at Miami. A chance for Brett Gabbert and co. to rebound from a 24-point loss to #13 Kentucky against an unranked FCS foe.
UMass at Toledo. The Rockets thrashed miserable FCS Long Island, 37-0, last week, and catch a rebuilding but still depressing Minutemen squad this week. They face #3 Ohio State next week. Let Toledo enjoy this.
Northern Illinois at Tulsa. The reining MAC champs had a surprisingly tough time with FCS Eastern Illinois last week before landing a seven-point win. The Golden Hurricanes are -6.5 favorites.
Eastern Michigan at Louisiana. I did love betting me some Louisiana last year. QB Levi Lewis is gone, and so is head coach Billy Napier (Florida!), and EMU’s a double-digit dog in this one. The Eagles always keep it close! I’m betting they do, anyway.
Horns up, everyone.
Check out this very interesting story on UBBulls.com about a fairly tame 1970 political action by the UB Marching Band that ticked off ABC. Different times(?).Also includes a photo of Buffalo’s old South Campus stomping grounds, Rotary Field, which I never knew actually had stands and whatnot. It’s always been just a literal field.