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Five Bull bits: Tired of moral victories

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

It feels too early in the fall to raise the white flag on a college football season, but the University at Buffalo Bulls are doing little to convince fans otherwise.

UB should never have lost the 38-31 tilt against undefeated Ohio (6-0), a very vulnerable opponent that patched together a rag-tag run defense and underachieved offensively. Buffalo led almost every statistical category—total offense, time of possession, third down efficiency and total third downs, to name a few—and ran for a staggering 313 yards while holding Ohio’s stud RB Beau Blankenship to only 86.

Jeff Quinn’s Bulls rolled to a 14-0 lead and seemed destined for a statement MAC win until turnovers and special teams futility marred a special performance by freshman runner Devin Campbell and a dominant offensive line. Three second-quarter fumbles by Alex Neutz, Zordich and special-teamer Derek Brim provided the Bobcats with several short fields—the Bobcats’ average drive start was their own 45—and a halftime lead.

Here are five themes that vary between good, bad and horrendous:

1) Devin is for real: 30 carries, 160 yards and a score for true freshman runner Devin Campbell, who was forced to carry the load due to Branden Oliver’s nagging leg injury and Brandon Murie’s undisclosed absence from the lineup. The Bulls’ burly offensive line opened up massive holes for both Campbell and Zordich (19-110), who could zig and zag as they pleased. Campbell was decisive, quick out of his cuts and showed a burst not unlike Bo Oliver.

The play-calling was excellent at times, too, as Zordich would often either hand off to Campbell on a jet sweep or fake the hand-off and tote the ball himself. Without Tremayne Scott available and top tackler Gerald Moore on the shelf, Frank Solich’s run defense was virtually asking to be torn to shreds.

2) Turnovers: The contrast between Ohio’s opportunistic—if rather porous—defense and UB’s lack of defensive play-makers was on full display. Two good strips by Ohio defenders forced Neutz and Zordich to cough the ball up, while an inexcusable special teams blunder by Brim resulted in Ohio’s +2 turnover advantage. Ohio improved to +13 on the season, while Buffalo fell to - 8. You can out-run opponents and play very well in certain facets, but if you’re crushed in the turnover battle—good luck notching wins.

3) Gimmicks: Buffalo’s earned the distinction as a conservative offensive team—at least in the past—as halfback draws on 3rd and long and poorly executed trick plays were a common theme. The execution has been far better this year, however, as the Bulls ran another hook-and-ladder Saturday as well as the Alex-to-Alex-to-Alex touchdown (Zordich to Dennison to Neutz) for 55 yards. Dennison also scored out of the Wildcat formation, which has been used often in Alex Wood’s second year as offensive coordinator. Even though they’re 1-4, at least this incarnation of the Bulls has a hint of unpredictability.

4) How real of a threat is Licata? Alex Zordich is a tremendous runner for a quarterback, and his skills are valuable if the running game is a viable option. Trailing late with the clock working against him, Zordich is about as valuable as Ryan Fitzpatrick. While it’s exciting to imagine the style of passing offense the Bulls will have in Licata’s prime, the redshirt-freshman is still getting accustomed to hanging tough in the pocket, and he’s so confident in his arm that he regularly takes risk throwing into tight windows. If Quinn can magically merge the skill-sets of his top two quarterbacks, the Bulls would have their own Cam Newton.

5) The road ahead: The MAC slate doesn’t relent for the Bulls, as Saturday’s trip to DeKalb is on the docket. Northern Illinois (5-1, 2-0 in MAC) is second in the MAC in total defense and scoring offense, and the Huskies own a 30-23 win over Kansas and a narrow 18-17 loss to Big Ten school Iowa. Do-everything QB Jordan Lynch has rushed for nine TDs and thrown for nine scores, too, and the 6’0 dual-threat is second in the MAC in rushes, yards and first in rushing TDs. Buffalo’s defensive coordinator Lou Tepper will have several headaches this week preparing for Lynch.

(Header photo by Don Nieman from the Kent State gallery).

TAGGED: alex neutz, alex zordich, branden oliver, devin campbell, jeff quinn, joe licata, ub bulls, university at buffalo

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