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UB Bulls: 4 up, 4 down before Temple

Photo from UB vs. Ohio by Dave Marino

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

The win over Ohio proved to the University at Buffalo the value of a tough non-conference schedule.  Formidable efforts against Pittsburgh and UConn—where the Bulls hung around for large portions of each game—kept Buffalo poised on the winning drive where Branden Oliver stormed into the end zone on fourth and goal from the one yard line. 

At 1 p.m. Saturday, the Bulls (2-4 overall, 1-1 MAC) square off against Temple (4-2 overall, 2-1 MAC), another MAC East foe; in two games against the Owls since Buffalo’s International Bowl season, the Bulls have been outscored 79-13 total (42-0; 37-13).  Temple’s lone MAC blemish is against upstart Toledo, as the Rockets capitalized on four Owl turnovers en route to a 36-13 victory.  According to UBBulls.com, the game is not scheduled to be televised, and it is Temple’s Homecoming game.

As the Bulls have charged through exactly half of their schedule, there’ve been a number of players who’ve “broken out”—athletes who’ve played above expectations, carving out a significant role.  At the same time, though, veterans have fallen out of favor, or highly-anticipated newcomers have fizzled out. 

Overachievers:

— Najja Johnson, cornerback:  Johnson’s inclusion as the “spokes-Bull” at Tuesday’s press conference speaks volumes about the sophomore’s rise.  The secondary was in disarray entering the season, considering the departures of Davonte Shannon, Domonic Cook, Josh Thomas, Kendric Hawkins and Sherrod Lott.  The surprise winner of the starter cornerback job in camp, Johnson has exceeded expectations and has potential to be a lock-down pass defender.  Quinn pointed to Johnson’s forceful hit on Ohio’s Donte Harden with 12:43 remaining in the first quarter as a play that set an aggressive tone for the Bulls’ defense.

— Lee Skinner, inside linebacker:  The red-shirt freshman stormed out of the gate, tearing a starting job away from Scott Pettigrew and swarming to the ball on seemingly every play.  He’s tied for second on the team in tackles with 40 (18 solo, 22 assists), and while he doesn’t have the play-making ability of Khalil Mack (who does?), he’s solid and consistent—even if you don’t notice him on every play.

— Dillon Guy, Andre Davis, starting guards:  I feel bad lumping the two together, but they’ve both embraced starting roles—Chazz Anderson and Jeff Quinn were filled with praise about their efforts after the Ohio contest.  Their penchant for opening holes in the run game is a big reason why Branden Oliver runs off guard so frequently, and, with only 11 sacks allowed as a unit so far, the entire offensive line has met Quinn’s challenge.

— Branden Oliver, running back:  In the two games prior to the Ohio clash, I thought Oliver had reverted back to 2010 form.  Not so—the sophomore tailback simply tore up the Bobcat front seven (34 carries, 179 yards, three TDs).  Bo displayed the form that had Turner Gill uncomfortably excited just prior to his departure—Oliver runs with a very low center of gravity, keeps his feet constantly churning and is noticeably better at breaking tackles this year. 

Underachievers:

— Jaleel Verser, outside linebacker:  I had high hopes for Verser entering the season—he was very active in spring ball, and with the attention paid to Mack on the other side, Verser would likely have fewer blocks to shed.  He has 26 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, one sack and three QB hurries through six games.  Perhaps expectations were too high for the lanky junior, but I certainly figured he’d be more productive than this.

— James Potts, running back:  It’s probably a little harsh to put Potts in the “underachievers” column despite the fact that he hasn’t played a snap this year, but that’s really the point.  Arguably the most heralded recruit in the history of UB’s program, it’s befuddling that Potts couldn’t raise his academics to meet eligibility standards.  If Branden Oliver wears down in the latter portion of the year, Potts is partially to blame.

— Jeff Quinn, head coach:  The overwhelming response to Jeff Quinn’s tenure as Bulls’ head coach has been favorable.  He’s a stand-up guy, incredibly charismatic and commands the respect of his players.  His play-calling?  A little more sketchy.  Whether it was his admittedly poor decision to punt with four minutes remaining in the UConn game or the baffling red zone calls against Ohio, a troubling trend of “out-thinking himself” is sneaking up on Quinn.  Hopefully the pattern comes to a halt soon.

— The Bulls’ kick coverage:  It’s absolutely terrifying that Temple is tops in the MAC—and the nation—in kick return yards with 29.6 yards per return (props to UBfan.com for that statistic.)  Brandon Murie has been the unit’s lone play-maker, and the 194 return yards conceded to the Bobcats is a cause for concern.  The Bulls rank 105th in the nation in covering kicks.  Even though Temple’s Matt Brown has issues holding onto the ball sometimes, he’s dynamic in space.  Special teams could play a monster role in deciding this game.

TAGGED: branden oliver, jaleel verser, jeff quinn, najja johnson, temple owls, ub bulls football, university at buffalo

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