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Us against Them: Buffalo at Western Michigan

Time for another Sprint to the Finish?

Last year at this time we had just, barely, dispatched a terrible Army team to make our mark 3-4 with a conference record of 1-2. This year we just barely dispatched a terrible Akron team to make the same mark. In some ways we are in a better position, and in some ways we are in a worse position.

After needing overtime to beat Army we were looking at road games to the other two teams still seriously in the hunt for the eastern Division (Akron and Bowling Green). We were also still a team that had not won, outright, a divisional title or had a winning record since joining the bowl subdivision.

For many the memory of Drew Willy fumbling against Miami on the final drive (2007), costing us the game and the division, combined with two close losses to CMU and WMU meant that this team was just not ready yet.
"Three and Four? Sure we might break even this year, that would be a step forward, right?"

What the Bulls did was to rip off 4 straight wins over teams in the MAC East to clinch the division.

So rather than think that the turnovers, slow starts (to the season and to each game), our loss to Temple, or our position in the division make this a 'rebuilding year' lets focus on the the next five games.
  • 4/5 remaining game are against teams with losing records, only two of our first seven were against teams with losing records.
  • Two of the better teams (Ohio and Bowling Green) are making mid week trips to UB, Buffalo did not lose a single off Saturday game last season.
  • Our last two away games are against teams that are a combined 3-11 on the season. (but we did lose to Kent last year so nothing is a given)
This makes the game against WMU something we will not see the rest of the year, an away game against a respectable team. If UB can take the Bronco's down they have the inside track on an eight and four, or seven and five season. While we can't control what Temple or Ohio will do (Go Toledo, go Kent) we can almost guarantee a bowl if we win out... It's time for another sprint...

Folks up in Kalamazoo must be thinking the same thing, they have played CMU, Toledo, and NIU. For them the worst of their schedule is over. Aside from an out of conference game against Michigan State their best opponent for the rest of the season is UB.

Like the Bulls the Bronco's don't control their divisional destiny but they do control their Bowl destiny. Whoever gets a better jump off of the blocks this week has a better shot at playing in the post season.

Coaching (WMU, Slight):

While Turner Gill may have come out higher ranked in the coaching decathlon I still think the Broncos have a slight edge in this department. Bill Cubit has no divisional title to his name, no miracle turnaround, but he has held his own in a western division that has been stronger than the east for many years.

Both coaches have had their struggles this year so picking which is 'Better' right now is pretty difficult. If I were picking a coach to rebuild my team I would take Gill in a heartbeat, but given that Cubit was at the helm last year when UB fell apart in the 4th quarter he gets the nod over Gill for this game.

Offense (WMU, Slight):

This was probably the hardest area to pick, both teams feature middle of the pack offenses in the conference and both have some pretty strong weapons. Both teams have struggled with turnovers (16 for Buffalo and 17 for WMU) which is not what they were doing last season.

WMU has been pretty consistent this season, they look like a dimensional offense (passing) but that is mostly because of play calling and not potential. Brandon West can be a solid halfback should he be called on to play the role of offensive anchor but with Tim Hiller on your team, for one last season, you might as well throw it early and throw it often.

UB should look out for:
  • Tim Hiller - One of the top MAC QB's and a serious draft prospect
  • Brandon West - A great runner who is likely to pull in 4-5 receptions per game
  • Juan Nunez - Missed some time and is a bit banged up but has 6 touchdowns
  • Offensive Line - Allowing only on sack per game on a pass heavy team
Buffalo has more balanced play calling, but this has only been effective since Ike Nduka stepped up for UB. The bulls had a miserable ground game during the first several weeks of the season and other areas of the offense (and defense) suffered from it.

Maynard seems to have shaken off the Temple game (a game like that could destroy a lesser young quarterback) and has started to look a bit better throwing down field which should help to start stretch out opposing defenses. We don't need him to play the Pitt game (400+ yards, 5 TD's) every week.. 250 with more TD's than picks will mean success for the offense as a whole.

Because UB is a bit more beat up I have to give the nod to WMU. Either offense can do some damage but UB is down two linemen and, potentially, two half backs.

Defense (Buffalo, Safe):

UB's defense is finally living up to the promise that it had during the preseason. The improvement is sparked by pressure from the front four (led by Steven Means), and UB beginning to take the ball away.

If the Bulls are looking 'weak' in any one area its their poor tackling. The linebackers are not doing a good enough job sticking to the runner after contact, Patrick Nicely bounced off at least three Bulls during his touchdown scamper this past week.

WMU has had tough competition (NIU, Toledo, CMU, Michigan) so their defense has seen its fair share of tests but even with the level of competition some of the problems they are having makes them vulnerable to other conference teams.

They are giving up serious ground yards to even some of the weaker teams on the schedule, IU dropped more than 200 on them and Hofstra gained more than 160. Their secondary has just two interceptions against 13 touchdowns.

UB should look out for:
  • Cody Cielenski, tied for 8th in the conference in sacks and tackles for loss
  • Austin Pritchard, tied for 8th in the conference in total tackles
Special Teams (WMU, Clear):

UB's special teams are getting better, but they are not there yet. UB Still lacks the ability to count on field goals from 35-45 yards. Peter Fardon is getting better but still managed a couple of very short punts from deep in our own territory last week. Finally the return game is getting us respectable yards every time but there still has been no hint of a real danger to opposing teams.

WMU does it all well, they punt the ball well (nearly 40 yards per punt), they cover kickoffs well (7th nationally), they return well (west is 4th in the conference in kickoff returns), and they kick a respectable 70% field goals (though like Buffalo they have trouble once they get close to 40 yards.

UB Should look out for
  • Brandon West, a serious threat on the return game, an area UB has not defended well.