Fresh off a 29-23 win over the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, the #26 Rockets need to focus on the next task at hand - taking on the Bulls of Buffalo.
Head Coach Joe Quinn, in his third year at the helm of UB (1-6, 0-3), is trying to figure out how to get his squad to perform up to their potential. Promoted from assistant UB coach, Quinn was Brian Kelly's right hand guy at CMU and Cincinnati. This may come off as a cliché but the Bulls may be the best 1-6 team in the nation. Okay I can see the eyes of Auburn fans rolling in their sockets.
The Bulls have hung tough in their games against the Georgia Bulldogs, the Connecticut Huskies and the Ohio U Bobcats, dropping both against the last two by seven points each. Their loss last week against the Pitt Panthers was not decided until deep into the fourth quarter. Okay those other Huskies gave Buffalo a smack down of 45-3 a couple weeks ago.
Bulls on Offense
In the spring camp there was a QB battle between junior Alex Zordich and redshirt freshman Joe Licata. Zordich has been the main guy last year and for most of this year. He also started four games as a true freshman. As you can image with just one win this season, a number of Bulls fans have been clamoring for Licata, a record-setting passer from neighboring Williamsville South HS, to get more playing time.
Coach Quinn has settled in with Zordich as his guy despite completing just 52.6% of his passes with 8 TDs and 7 INTs. He uses his feet as much as his arm, leading the Bulls in total rushing yardage, 434 yards, averaging 4.9 ypr. Plus Zordich is a better passer on the run than setting up in the pocket.
The Bulls running game took a hit when Branden Oliver, averaging 6.0 ypr, went down with an injury in the fourth game. He is not expected to play against the Rockets. Freshman Devin Campbell has become the go-to back averaging a solid 4.2 ypr with two 100+ yards rushing games under his belt. He doesn't have the size of Oliver but he gets to the hole quickly and fights for yards after initial contact. He also is a good receiver, catching balls out of the backfield. Junior Brandon Murie provides decent relief in running the ball. The veteran OL excels in run blocking but has been a bit dinged up.
Losing first-team All-MAC RB Oliver hurts. The Bulls also lost their leading receiver Alex Neutz for the Pitt game. He should be ready for the Rockets. Another WR, Fred Lee is nursing an injury to his left hand and is not listed on the current depth chart.
Neutz, the top receiver for the last two years, is a big play threat and has company in the presence of sophomore wide receivers Devin Hughes and John Dunmore. Hughes is the second leading pass catcher with 22 receptions. Dunmore stepped up big time with seven grabs against Pitt. When Bulls QBs get the ball to them, this group of wide outs can make plays.
The Bulls also use a pair of tight ends as part of their passing attack as well as using Alex Dennison in the backfield as a wildcat runner.
Turnovers have stymied the Bulls. In addition to being picked off eight times, the Bulls have lost six of nine fumbles giving them a minus 11 TO margin. Add in a third down conversion rate of a smidge better than 37% and it's easy to see why their offense tends to sputter.
Bulls on Defense
Despite the win-loss record, the Bulls are holding their own statistically. They are allowing nearly 100 yards less per game than the Rockets.
The rushing defense of the Bulls is statistically on a par with the Toledo allowing 185 yards rushing per game. The Rockets' rushing allowed per game stat is 178. Along the three-man DL front, DE Steven Means (6'4", 250#) is a force.
The strength of the Bulls defense is at line backing. Senior line backer Willie Moseley, sophomore Lee Skinner and senior Jaleel Verser all support All-MAC LB Khalil Mack. Mack and Skinner rank one and two in total tackles with Mack having a team best 12.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks. Moseley puts pressure on the opposition quarterbacks too with a team-high four QB hurries. The blitzing package employed by Buffalo has produced 19 QB sacks, three more than the Rockets in one less game played.
The pass defense of the Bulls is allowing less than 196 yards per game. Three 6' 0'' 180# DBs, Witney Sherry, Courtney Lester and Najja Johnson are having standout years. They have combined for 10 pass breakups and a dozen pass deflections. Sherry is also third on the team in total tackles. Johnson has both of the Bulls INTs.
Bulls on Special Teams
The play of the special teams has been an issue throughout the season. The Bulls' punting game ranks nationally near the bottom statistically netting 31.4 yards per punt. The kickoff coverage complements the punt unit allowing nearly 29 yards per kickoff return with two going to the house. A bright spot is the field goal kicking of Patrick Clarke converting on six of seven attempts. The lone miss was due to a high snap blowing up the play.
Brandon Murie is averaging 22 yards per kickoff return with Cordero Dixon returning punts for just three yards per effort.
What to Look for:
QB Alex Zordich to roll out much more than setting up in the pocket.
The Bulls running game to feature speed sweeps with RB Campbell.
Wide receivers will participate in the ground game for Buffalo, running reverses and sweeps.
Double digit tackles by both linebackers, Mack and Molls.
Bernard Reedy to have a great day in the return game.
Continual outstanding kick and punt coverage by the Rockets.
Most of Buffalo's passing game being short passes with the majority being quick outs.
Zordich to run on zone read options.
Total rushes by Zordich to be close to his total of pass attempts.
The Rockets to win the turnover battle with at least one INT.
Fourth straight 100 yard rushing game for David Fluellen.
Multiple field goals for both teams.
The Bulls to have more QB sacks than the Rockets.
The Rockets to be focused from the start - don't look for them sightseeing at nearby Niagara Falls.
Nightlife on West Chippewa St with a younger, high-energy crowd at its busy bars and cafés.
Less rowdy watering holes in the Allentown Historic Preservation District.
The Anchor Bar, corner of Main and North St. where the world famous Buffalo wings were invented in 1964; the bar remains a fabulously fun and funky destination.