Bull bits: Pressing for positives after win over Stony Brook
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • September 15, 2013 @ 8:21am
Typically after a college football game perseveres through five overtimes, exceeds four hours in length and closes with the home team finding the end zone, the prevailing mood is usually triumphant, a much-welcomed exhale after a hotly-contested marathon.
For the University at Buffalo Bulls, however, head coach Jeff Quinn was left answering questions about why his team couldn’t pull away from a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) foe in search of its second-ever win against an FBS opponent.
The Bulls’ opponent— the Stony Brook Seawolves—certainly wasn’t a team to overlook, as the No. 13-ranked team in NCAA Division I-AA had shut out Rhode Island 24-0 in the opener and returned four starting offensive linemen in front of gifted Iowa transfer RB Marcus Coker. The Seawolves entered the win column against FBS schools in 2012, thumping Army 23-3 in a season the Black Knights went 2-10.
Still, UB should have had little difficulty in dispatching the Seawolves as, in many cases, the talent drop-off by NCAA tier is severe—look how UB fared against BCS schools Ohio State (40-20) and Baylor (70-13). The discrepancy in size, speed and pure athletic talent was noticeable in the Bulls’ first two affairs, and logic suggested that UB would share the Buckeyes’ and Bears’ advantage in facing an FCS school. After all, the Bulls thumped Stony Brook 35-7 in 2011.
Stony Brook senior kicker Nick Ferrara had several chances to play hero, but he managed to hit just three of six field goal tries on the afternoon, including a 37-yard shank in the fourth overtime that would have won it for the Seawolves.
Obviously, the Bulls were lucky not to suffer the humiliation of losing to a school accustomed to facing programs like Charleston Southern, Presbyterian and the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), even if Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore has built a team that believes it can compete with Division I-A foes.
UB’s 26-23 five-overtime win (box score) was anything but easy, as Buffalo was beaten in passing yards (300 to 216), rushing yards (140-133) and time of possession (30:59 to 29:01). Let’s take a quick look at major story-lines:
1) Secondary: The post-game statistics don’t indicate this, as Seawolves senior Malcolm Eugene and junior Adrian Coxson combined for 17 catches, 223 yards and two Eugene scores, but the Bulls’ secondary was actually the team’s best unit. A quiet game by Khalil Mack’s standards—just 1.5 tackles-for-loss and 10 tackles overall—was mitigated by three pass breakups and an interception from Bulls senior Najja Johnson, 14 tackles, a sack, two TFLs and a hurry by safety Okoye Houston, 17 tackles and two TFLs by safety Adam Redden and eight tackles and two passes defensed by Derek Brim.
Credit Bulls defensive coordinator Lou Tepper with keeping Stony Brook off-balance, as Houston frequently brought pressure in third-down situations, limiting SBU QB Lyle Negron’s time in the pocket and forcing him to throw off his back foot regularly.
Redden was very strong in run support—particularly through open-field tackles on the 230-pound Coker—while Johnson and Brim demonstrated the pesky coverage we’ve come to expect from UB secondaries, impressing former Bulls’ CB great and current Carolina Panther Josh Thomas in attendance.
As usual, the Bulls’ head strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval should be extolled, as Buffalo’s stayed sharp despite confronting five Stony Brook OT possessions that all began 25 yards away from UB’s goal-line.
2) No Bo, not much problem: When sophomore runner Anthone Taylor was spotted in the UB backfield to open the game, press row and Bulls’ fans were befuddled by the absence of Branden Oliver, who’d practiced on Thursday and looked ready to suit up on Saturday.
As we learned after the game, Oliver had tweaked his knee in warmups and admitted that he wasn’t 100 percent healthy, leading the team’s training staff to advise Quinn against playing his stud back.
Though he lacks Oliver’s experience, Taylor didn’t look out of place, scampering for two touchdowns—including the game winner—and surpassing 100 yards on the ground. He was quick, decisive and showed good burst to the outside, evident on a 32-yard run that bounced to the right sideline.
Quinn clearly prefers Taylor to Devin Campbell—a true freshman last season who capably backed up Oliver when the starter missed five games with a knee injury—as Campbell is useful in a variety of spots, much like how New England used Shane Vereen.
Former highly regarded Bulls recruit James Potts showed his pre-knee injury speed in the first half, but he was bottled up after halftime.
3) Failure to finish: UB’s offense stalled at Stony Brook’s 1/2-yard line in the first quarter, and Quinn elected to kick a 17-yard field goal to minimize risk and take the points. This was the first omen we saw of a low-scoring affair—the halftime score was 3-0 in favor of Buffalo—that ended 10-10 in regulation.
Aside from a surprise pass by former HS quarterback Mason Schreck after a toss from Licata—which set up Taylor’s TD plunge from the one-yard line—there was very limited imagination on the offensive side of the ball for Quinn’s club. There’s obviously no need for UB to overdo the trickery, but Stony Brook’s defense was both comfortable and aggressive, and Seawolves playmakers like Max Martinez, Aaron Thompson, Reuben Johnson and Winston Longdon took full advantage.
(Photos courtesy of BuffaloBulls.com—see the full gallery here).