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Down not out. 2015 is still closer to 2008 than you think

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UB is 2-4 at the midway point of the season for the first time since 2011. Yet, it should feel familiar. UB has been 2-4 six times in the past 9 years. The only years that were better were 2013 (4-2) and 2014 (3-3 thanks to two FCS games).

But in the final six games, the schedule gets easier and more familiar. UB has won 44.7% of their final 6 games of the season since 2007, a 7.7% improvement over the first 6 games. If you count the Kent game as a win, UB finished 3-3 or better in 6 of the last 8 seasons.

The 3-3 finish has been disappointing in the past and would likely be this year:

2007: UB failed on numerous chances to take control of the MAC East and gain bowl eligibility, and they lost to a weak Syracuse team.

2009: UB failed to capitalize on the momentum of 2008, losing close games before salvaging 5-7 with 2 late wins.

2012: The rise of Licata took gave UB a surge to 4-8 but the season ending loss to Bowling Green was concerning.

2014: An offensive shutdown against CMU and Ohio doomed the team, Kent iced the cake by not showing up due to icy roads.

2015: A 3-3 finish and a 5-7 season would not be the way UB fans wanted their Senior QB to go out.

Amid a sea of 3-3, one season does stand out, 5-1. 2008. I use 2008 as a beacon of hope, that you can lose and then you can win, the scores are not cumulative. Can this team win 4, 5 or 6 games? Are they that different than the 2008 team that put a win streak together?

Running Backs

RB Runs Yards TDs yard/run
Taylor 110 526 2 4.78
Starks 109 515 4 4.72
Johnson 67 305 3 4.55
Thermilus 51 211 5 4.14

Taylor is out running James Starks at the same point in 2008 however Starks was battling injury for about 5 weeks during the first half of the 2008 season. Starks ran for 5.02 yards per carry in UB's first 4 games, then 4.38 yards per carry before finding his stride running for 5.43 yards per carry in UB's final 6 games of the regular season.

After starting the season at 5.04 yards per carry for Johnson and 5.01 for Taylor, both have cooled Johnson rushing for 3.4 yards per carry and Taylor 4.26 yards per carry in the last two games.

2015 is running at the same pace of 2008, but in the second half of the season, the run game exploded. If 2015 is going to be 2008, Taylor and Johnson are going to have to improve.

Wide Receivers

Receiving Rec Yards TDs yard/rec rec/td
Roosevelt 38 562 4 14.79 9.50
Hamlin 15 202 2 13.47 7.50
Willoughby 32 395 3 12.34 10.67
Lisa 16 188 1 11.75 16.00
Jackson 16 179 3 11.19 5.33
McGill 16 179 2 11.19 8.00
Starks 12 132 1 11.00 12.00
Schreck 10 108 0 10.80 #DIV/0!
Weiser 29 295 1 10.17 29.00
Rack 13 132 0 10.15 #DIV/0!

Statistically Naaman-Hamlin-Jackson and Rack did more with less than Willoughby-Lisa-McGill and Weiser. The 2008 quartet gained 1,075 yards on 82 catches and 9 TDs while the 2015 version has 1,057 yards on 93 catches and 7 TDs.

In 2008 the big 4 receivers regressed from 197 yards/game in the first 4 games to 144 yards. Their yards per reception dipped 3 yards from 14.07 to 11.04

The 2008 receivers as a unit got back near their average of 195 yards per game during the final 6 games, however they needed to catch 16 balls a game to get there, with 12.2 yards per reception. The biggest improvement was the big 4 hauled in 10 TDs in the final 6 games, scoring once for every 9.6 catches. Leading the charge was Naaman Roosevelt who scored a TD in each of the final six regular season games. In the final six games Naaman had half of the big 4's receptions, 54% of their yards and 60% of their TDs.

In 2008, Naaman stepped up. In 2015 someone has to step up as the #1 receiver. Willoughby has to step up and make plays as the #1, especially in the red zone.

Ron's last two games (10 for 126 and 2 TDs) was better than Naaman's game 5 and 6 in 2008 (11 for 124 and 1 TD). So hopefully Ron is able to break out in MAC play as 18 did in 2008.

Quarterbacks

First 6 Games
Passing comp att comp% yards
Willy 122 199 61.3% 1456
Licata 130 211 61.6% 1375
First 4 Games
Passing comp att comp% yards
Willy 82 132 62.1% 1029
Licata 82 127 64.6% 894
Games 5 & 6
Passing comp att comp% yards
Willy 40 67 59.7% 427
Licata 48 84 57.1% 481

Looking at completions and yards the numbers are very similar with Licata having a slight edge in completion % and Willy throwing for 81 more yards despite 12 less attempts.

First 6 Games
Passing yard/att yard/comp yard/drop
Willy 7.32 11.93 6.84
Licata 6.52 10.58 6.19
First 4 Games
Passing yard/att yard/comp yard/drop
Willy 7.80 12.55 6.86
Licata 7.04 10.90 6.08
Games 5 & 6
Passing yard/att yard/comp yard/drop
Willy 6.37 10.68 5.54
Licata 5.73 10.02 5.43

In the first four games Willy gained almost a yard more per dropback, but both QBs saw a dip in games 5 and 6, Willy only gaining 5.54 yards per dropback and Licata struggling with 5.43 yards per dropback.

First 6 Games
Passing TDs dropback/TD INT dropback/INT Sacks dropback/sack
Willy 12 17.75 4 53.25 14 15.21
Licata 8 27.75 6 37 11 20.18
First 4 Games
Willy 10 14.20 3 47.33 10 14.20
Licata 6 22.67 4 34.00 9 15.11
Games 5 & 6
Willy 2 35.50 1 71.00 4 17.75
Licata 2 43.00 2 43.00 2 43.00

Both QBs only threw 2 TDs in games 5 and 6, and both QBs saw their season average in dropbacks/TD rise sharply. After 6 games, if each QB was to dropback you'd expect Willy to throw 28 TDs and 9 INTs, while you'd expect Licata to throw 18 TDs and 14 INTs.

Willy's game management kept UB in games, while Licata's recklessness may have cost UB some games. That said, Licata is much better at avoiding sacks than Willy. In the last two games he was sacked only twice, once every 43 dropbacks.

In the final six games of the season Willy improved his completion percentage by 6.4%, but his dropback/TD rate, his sack rate, his yards per attempt, completion and per dropback numbers all were worse. What was better, was his interception rate, throwing only 1 interception over 211 dropbacks.

Playing in the cold of MACtion, Willy let the defense and the run game take over as he kept UB moving forward with a shorter but more accurate pass game. As the offense continues to struggle, UB should focus more on ball control running and limiting interceptions rather than try to force fix a passing offense that is broken.

Looking at individual offensive stats, the 2015 Bulls look very similar to the 2008 Bulls. The biggest difference has been situational. Through six games, the 2008 Bulls held the lead for 137:50 and they trailed for 132:44. The 2015 Bulls have lead for 76:21 and have trailed for 218 minutes. Outside of Albany, they have only lead FAU, and they only had the lead for 28 seconds more than FAU did. UB hasn't led a game since 3:07 in the 1st against Nevada when the Wolfpack tied the game at 7, a streak of 157:41 without a lead.

I believe that contributes to the "eye-test" verdict that this team isn't very good. That said, having the lead is really only relevant when the clock is all zero's in the 4th quarter (ask Michigan).

The 2008 Bulls won a game they only led for 1:49 (Temple) and were defeated in back to back games where they had the lead for 37 and 47 minutes (CMU & WMU). The 2008 Bulls lost three games by a total of 17 points while the 2015 Bulls fell in 3 games by a total of 22 points.

It is a lot to digest, but I'll compare UB's situational play with 2008 later in the week.