Starless Bulls stumble again
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • October 20, 2012 @ 8:08pm
From an outsider’s perspective, it didn’t seem like UB’s 20-6 loss to Pittsburgh was of much consequence to the Bulls. Had the situation been dire, top wide-out Alex Neutz and running back Bo Oliver would have suited up, propelling Buffalo into at least a competitive game with the Big East’s Panthers. Despite the reasonable final margin, the Bulls rarely threatened the Pitt defense, often orchestrating promising drives only to stall outside field goal range.
As the media learned after the game, Neutz was held out mostly for precautionary reasons—he’d absorbed a jarring hit against Northern Illinois and the coaching staff didn’t want to risk further injury before the five-game MAC slate to close the season.
“We never got quite that close to getting [into] the game—it was a two-possession game [on the last drive]—and we knew, if we had to, we could have his services tonight,” Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn said of Neutz, who leads the Bulls with seven receiving touchdowns.
The exceptional Oliver, absent since the Kent State contest with a Grade 2 sprain of his medial collateral ligament (knee), warmed up but never entered the game.
“Believe me, I would have put them in there if I’d been given a green light,” Quinn admitted. “It just felt like we needed to wait another week, and hopefully we’ll have them back for this next game against Toledo.”
If there are any positives to take from a game where the Bulls failed to score a touchdown—and the announced homecoming crowd of 17,021 had dwindled well below 5,000 in the fourth quarter—it was the continued development of tailback Devin Campbell (with ball, above), who became the first Bull ever to run for two 100-yard games in his freshman season. Sophomore receiver John Dunmore, a Syracuse native pressed into duty because of injuries to Neutz and Fred Lee, racked up seven catches for 72 yards, showing sure hands and a strong rapport with Buffalo QB Alex Zordich.
Almost all the statistical categories favored Buffalo, including first downs, rushing yardage, passing yardage, penalty yards and time of possession, but the big play eluded Jeff Quinn’s club.
“It’s frustrating. There’s really no other word for it,” Zordich said, honestly. “You look at the numbers and you’d think we’d win the game—just based on the first downs we had and the amount of rushing yards we had—it’s just frustrating, and we’re tired of it.”
First-year Pitt head coach Paul Chryst, however, benefited from a few game-changing plays, particularly a 41-yard screen pass to true freshman Rushel Shell and a terrific interception by starting safety Jason Hendricks.
Guilty of over-pursuit on a 3rd and 7 from UB’s 47, the Bulls’ defense left acres of space for the burly Shell, who crept out of the backfield and hauled in Sunseri’s lob in the right flat to rumble forward with three blockers in front of him. Although Pitt couldn’t convert the huge gain into six points, Kevin Harper’s 22-yard field goal was valuable in a game that featured few scoring drives.
Pitt’s first touchdown, a four-yard tote by Shell, came as a result of an errant Zordich pass, one that struck free safety Hendricks in his numbers.
“The safety did a good job on the play,” Zordich said in the post-game presser. “I shouldn’t have thrown it, I should have seen him. They had the coverage making it look like it was an easy read, and I bit on it and cost my team some points.”
Unlike the spat of recent games where redshirt freshman Joe Licata earned a series to prove his mettle, the backup quarterback didn’t get a look tonight. Even after Zordich’s uninspiring 23-41, 165 yard, one INT performance, Quinn noted that Zordich’s job wasn’t in danger.
“Alex Zordich is our quarterback. He’s the guy that inspires us, gives us our best chance,” Quinn stated flatly.
Chryst’s squad pushed the lead to two scores in the third quarter, as senior runner Ray Graham exploded through a hole and dragged a tackler to pay-dirt from seven yards away. While his 20-74-1 line didn’t come close to matching his 30-201-3 line from last year’s contest, Graham occasionally demonstrated the burst and vision that set him apart on last year’s team.
Despite early ineffectiveness in throwing downfield—perhaps because of the wet conditions—senior QB Sunseri managed to move the ball quickly on the lone scoring series of the second half. He connected twice with 6’5 senior Mike Shanahan on the scoring drive that ended with Graham’s seven-yard scamper. Totaling 39 yards of the 58 yards on the series, Shanahan’s ability to sneak into the seams behind UB’s linebackers and in front of their safeties proved to be Buffalo’s undoing.
Trying to cut the game back to a one-score deficit, Patrick Clarke trotted on for a 42-yard attempt with 1:22 left in the third. Reserve QB Tony Daniel failed to secure the hold smoothly, however, and in desperation, his throw in the direction of Matt Weiser fell feebly incomplete. In a last ditch attempt with under two minutes left, Zordich’s TD lob to Rudy Johnson was called back due to an ineligible man downfield.
“I try to make sense of why we’re being tested the way we are right now. I thought our kids competed without a doubt,” Quinn said, shaking his head. “Let’s face it. It’s about putting points on the board, and we weren’t able to do that.”
“Now what we need to do is get some guys healthy and get them all back so we have a lot of good players we can go to, so we can have a little more comfort in guys like Neutz, Bo, Fred Lee, Boomer Brock, James Potts—those guys are all quality players,” Quinn continued. “Someone else will have to step in and pick up the slack, and that’s what I love about John Dunmore and Devin Campbell and our philosophy here.”
With the return of Oliver and Neutz for next Saturday’s tilt against Toledo (7-1) and former Lockport track and football star David Fluellen, perhaps the Bulls can begin a winning streak that would save their head coach’s job.
(Photos courtesy of Don Nieman from UB vs. Pitt—full gallery here).