For those bemoaning the 1-4 start to the season take heart, Other than some shaky offense in the red zone Buffalo played their best all around game of the year last Saturday. We had a strong running game, a solid passing attack, and a defense that manged to contain (but not stop all together) a powerful chips offense, only Arizona has done so well against them this season.
This is a Buffalo team on the cusp of turning it around, is it too late? Maybe for a divisional title but not for a bowl bid. The problems carrying over from the chips game are far more minor than the ones that have plagued UB to date. Offensively all the Bulls need to do is fix their red zone offense and continue doing everything else they did against the Chips (hold the ball) and defensively all they need to do is come out stronger in the first series than they have been.
The Bulls have a chance to try work out in a game situation against, maybe, the weakest team left on their schedule. The pressure is all on Buffalo coming in because a loss to an FCS program right now would be the final stake to the heart of UB's football's 2009 season.
The biggest thing to be excited about in the loss to CMU was the running game, the first time outside of UTEP we have had a passable running game (this week it was spectacular) and it was done against the then best running defense in the MAC. It's too early to proverbially slap the number 19 on him but what I saw Saturday (thanks to the low quality live stream provided by mac-sports) was a back who exploded through holes, broke all but the most sound tackles, out ran linebackers to the corners, and held the ball.
as true in 1951 as it is today
His performance, and a solid effort by the offensive line, gave Maynard some time to breath for the first time in weeks and with that time he played an efficient and intelligent game. Not as good numbers wise as the Pitt game but more impressive all around. The only mistake Maynard made (outside of some problems handing the ball off) was an errant pass that could have been a touchdown and the late interception where he let the game situation (down 7 with about two minutes left) get the best of him. The only thing Maynard has not shown this season is touch which is critical when you get down inside the 20.
The defense, as I mentioned above, played their best game of the year, getting to LeFevour a couple of times and, along with the offense, winning the turnover battle for the first time this year. Tackling was solid and other than a couple of times where LeFevour found open space to run they clamped down very well.
Finally special teams came along well, if Fardon ever gets consistent he will be the most dangerous punter in the MAC, AJ went 2/3 and kickoff coverage was a vast improvement over past weeks. The return game looked respectable which is a vast improvement.
Gardner Webb survived VMI and, at 3-1, is receiving poll ballots for the FCS. They are probably somewhere between 25th and 35th among all IAA teams which, when combined with some of the things UB has done this season, is enough reason to worry about them. Villinova did not outplay Temple in any aspect save turnovers. If UB turns the ball over 2,3,4 or more times the Bulldogs are capable of beating them.
Coaching (Buffalo, Safe)
Steve Patton has an impressive record (80-55) over nearly a dozen years as the helm of Gardner Webb Football, he has two Big South Conference titles to his name (2002/2003) but over the past five years the Bulldogs have finished 3rd in their conference every year and manged only one winning record. So far this season is shaping up well for the Bull Dogs but with two division IA opponents (NC State and Buffalo) a winning season may still be hard to come by.
Turner Gill seems to have taken care of the turnover issues that has plagued UB so far this season and despite personnel losses including All Conference Running Back James Starks, Starting Center Matt Bocoulis, and a host of defenders with more minor injuries UB heads into the soft(er) part of its season with a real shot at six or seven wins.
Offense (Buffalo, Slight-Comfortable)
Buffalo is the faster more talented team, and the performance of a patchwork line decimated by injury and attrition (losing three starters to graduation) has improved dramatically. They will have to face a Gardner Webb Defense that managed to apply respectable pressure to NC State and has a very talented and deep core of linebackers, probably the best in the big south, but if the Line can come together like they did against the Chips I expect to see Ike Nduka stack up another good performance giving Maynard the ability to play it a little safe (always a nice thing when the QB can play without pressure).
I am tempted to give UB a comfortable margin but there are two problems; Firstly I don't know if last weeks performance has staying power, if UB does not have the running game, consistently, we may very well digress. Secondly, even though they are an FCS team GW dominates their conference offensively (see below).
Gardner Webb is an explosive offence that leads their conference in Passing (nearly 250 a game) and overall offense (375 a game). Stan Doolittle leads an offense that is dropping 31 points a game using mostly the pass. Despite this statistical success the one FBS program they played kept the Bulldogs under wraps (but its fair to say that the Wolf Pack have a far better defense than Buffalo). The key to this offense is the success of James Perry and Nick Milton, if the UB Corners can lock these two down all that's left for GW is a questionable running game.
Defense (Buffalo, Safe)
If the UB defense from last week shows up I suspect UB will field a far better unit than Gardner Webb. On paper Webb looks good but NC State exploded for almost five hundred yards against them and the level of competition against which they have looks solid is suspect at best. Only VMI presented them with a decent offense, and the Keydets have a very one dimensional attack (all ground game).
The Bulldogs have solid linebackers and a respectable offensive line but I don't see their defensive backs covering Roosevelt, Hamlin, or Rack . If UB can establish even a marginally impressive running game against the front (4-5 YPC or better) Maynard will kill the Bull Dogs with the play action.
The UB defense finally played up to their potential against the Chips, for the first time this season an opposing QB had pressure applied, the team manged to force more than one turnover, and third downs were not almost automatic. All UB needs to do is work on the sort field inside the 20 and they can become one of the better defenses in the MAC. Most impressively they did it without Hawkins who was out injured.
The important thing for the Bulls is to come out strong, which they have yet to do this season. Only UTEP did not drive down and score on us the first time they touched the ball, and we owe that largely to a holding call. Gardner Webb's Offense is good enough to drive on us if we play a flat, uninspired, first series.
Special Teams (Push)
I'm not completely sold on the special teams of UB but they looked way better last week than they have all season. Its not just Roosevelt and Jackson running north-south (though that helps immensely) but the blocking looked far more organized. Coverage was also far stronger as the Chips never hit a big one (thanks to a holing call). Kicking and punting looked improved as well.
Gardner Webb does great in some areas (kickoff coverage, returns) and questionable in others (punt coverage). This is another one that will either be a push, if UB can't hold onto recent gains or strongly in UB's favor if the improvements seen last week were not chance.