Home stretch: Bulls welcome Pitt for homecoming
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • October 18, 2012 @ 12:18pm
The University at Buffalo Bulls need to finish 5-1 to close out the 2012 season to earn a bowl bid, an accomplishment that, given the team’s current four-game losing skid, seems impossible.
If there’s anything that points in the Bulls’ favor, however, it’s a four-game home-stand that begins with a homecoming clash against the Big East’s Pittsburgh Panthers at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at UB Stadium (tickets here). Homecoming festivities will rage from noon until 3 p.m., as True Blue will be in full-on celebration mode.
The primary discussion on the UB Fan message board is the future of Bulls’ head coach Jeff Quinn, whose tenuous grip of the job continues to loosen as the losses mount. If Buffalo is smacked around on its own field on homecoming, will that spell Quinn’s demise?
According to the Buffalo News’ Bob DiCesare, UB’s star tailback Branden Oliver, who’s been absent from the lineup with a knee injury since Sept. 19, only has a small chance to suit up against Pittsburgh. The target date for his return is more likely the home match-up against Toledo next Saturday.
True freshman running back Devin Campbell, who’s been the lone horse over the last two games, has received mixed reviews. After demolishing the Ohio Bobcats’ miniature front seven, Campbell ran 22 times for 36 yards—and a lost fumble—in the 45-3 pounding against the Huskies. If Oliver doesn’t suit up. Campbell is ineffective and Brandon Murie remains out of the lineup for undisclosed reasons, it’s possible that the Bulls could trot out Anthone Taylor, a star of last year’s training camp who hasn’t received a carry in 2012. Taylor is questionable himself, however, with a knee injury. Needless to say, the Bulls’ backfield is murky right now.
Even more concerning is DiCesare’s mention of Alex Neutz’s day-to-day label as, if the former Grand Island receiver can’t suit up, the Bulls will be without their two top offensive play-makers. Jeff Quinn’s offense is already short on receiving targets, as No. 2 receiver Fred Lee is out indefinitely with a wrist injury. While Devon Hughes was one of the few bright spots against Northern Illinois, shouldering the No. 1 would be too much to ask of him.
It’s a down year for Pittsburgh under first-year head coach Paul Chryst, as familiar names like QB Tino Sunseri and RB Ray Graham (who rumbled for 201 yards and three scores vs. UB last year) have the Panthers off to a meager 2-4 start, which includes losses to Youngstown State and Syracuse. There was a glimmer of “good Pittsburgh” in a 35-17 home upset of No. 13 Virginia Tech, as Chryst’s team ran the ball down the Hokies’ collective throat.
Most of the Panthers’ problems come on the defensive side of the ball, as the unit struggles to pressure the opposing quarterback (7th in Big East in sacks), conceded five rushing touchdowns against Louisville and can’t stop anyone on third down (opponents convert at a conference-best 46.7% rate).
Despite Sunseri’s better-than-expected numbers—70% completion percentage, 10 TDs, two INTs—the Pittsburgh offense has sputtered due to the knee problems of running back Ray Graham, who averaged nearly six yard per carry and totaled nine TDs in 2011. Now, the 5’9, 190 pound senior back has basically lost his starting job to the more productive Rushel Shell, a true freshman who’s had his two best games against Pitt’s only two ranked opponents.
Expect a committee-based attack where Chryst rides the hot hand in the run game. Since Buffalo has proven that it cannot stop anyone on the ground—Kent State’s Dri Archer and Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch, in particular—expect a run-heavy attack from the Panthers.
Marquee match-up: Buffalo cornerbacks, Najja Johnson and Cortney Lester vs. Pittsburgh receivers Mike Shanahan and Devin Street
(Header photo of courtesy of Don Nieman vs. Kent State—full gallery here).