After opening the season with a 28 point win against Robert Morris, and a 32 point loss against Penn State, the Buffalo Bulls have a date with the Liberty Flames, a MAC caliber school that will provide a true measuring stick for where the Bulls are at this point in the season. Liberty is in just their second season in the FBS, and their first as a bowl eligible program. During their first season in the FBS they were led by former UB coach Turner Gill, and had a solid 6-6 record for a program in transition. The Flames have started this season 0-2, losing 24-0 at home to the then #22 Syracuse Orange, and falling 35-14 on the road to Louisiana.
The Bulls and Flames have faced off once before, with the Bulls losing in overtime on the road 27-24 in 1998 when both programs were at the FCS level.
The Liberty offense is led by a big three of QB Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert, RB Frankie Hickson, and WR Antonio Gandy-Golden. Their 2018 statistics:
- Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert - 3068 passing yards, 21 TDs, 18 INTs
- Frankie Hickson - 1032 rushing yards, 4.5 YPC, 11 TDs
- Antonio Gandy-Golden - 71 receptions, 1037 yards, 10 TDs
Last season, the Liberty offense finished 34th in scoring at 33.2 points per game, and it figures to be their strength again this year with talent returning at the skill positions.
While the talent is there at the skill positions, the offensive line has been a unit of concern for the Flames. In two games this year, the Flames offensive line has allowed 11 sacks, and their yards per carry has dropped from 4.0 last season to 2.2 so far this year. This comes as a bit of a surprise with the Flames returning 100 career starts along the line, good for 14th in the nation. The concerns on the offensive line have affected the team as a whole, managing to muster just 7 points per game this season, down 79% from last season. Of course, it’s early in the season but it’s a storyline to keep an eye on going into the game on Saturday.
The defense was the primary concern for Liberty last season, allowing 485.4 total yards per game, and 36.8 points per game, good for 118th out of 130 FBS teams in 2018. Through two games, they’re giving up a touchdown less per game at 29.5 points per game, however they haven’t improved much from a yardage perspective, allowing 480.5 yards per game. The rushing defense has been the primary concern, allowing a whopping 6.7 yards per carry, including 407 yards on 46 carries last week at Louisiana. This bodes well for Buffalo whose primary strength is a veteran offensive line, two skilled running backs, and a dual threat quarterback. The Liberty defense also has a couple of injury concerns going into the week 3 match-up with Buffalo which you can read about in Tim’s blog swap with Liberty blog “A Sea of Red”.
The Liberty offense could be a challenge for the UB defense, but if the Bulls can play like they did at Penn State, they should be able to hold the Flames in check. The Bulls offense figures to not have too much trouble moving the ball against a struggling Flames’ defense. Liberty’s weak run defense matches UB’s strength in the run game, which could make for a long day for Liberty fans, and the newly discovered Matt Myers-Antonio Nunn vertical connection will keep the Liberty defense honest.