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Game Preview: Buffalo Bulls at Liberty Flames

Mississippi State v Mississippi Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

When Buffalo scheduled a home and home with Liberty, the then team of Turner Gill, I was a little excited for a mid major out of conference series against a team that had some tangential relationship to the Bulls.

Then Gill had to leave the job for Family reasons.

Still... As home and homes go this is not a bad arrangement. The Bulls have not played Liberty since the 90’s, so let’s take a peek at the Flames.

In the wake of Turner Gill leaving Hugh Freeze, the former Ole’ Miss, was hired to run the program.

At Mississippi Freeze had some issues with following the recruiting rules, and dialing the wrong number on his phone but there is no argument the man can coach. He spent four full seasons in the SEC West, averaged more than seven wins a year, and took his team to the Peach and Sugar Bowl.

Freeze upped Liberty's recruiting quite a bit just by setting foot on campus. In Freeze’s first signing class at Liberty, he inked 10 three-star prospects, in Gills entire tenure at Liberty he only managed five.

Last year they had a porous defense by their passing attack was strong enough to get them to six wins. Liberty beat Troy, Old Dominion, New Mexico, NMSU, and two FCS schools.

We saw against Penn State that the Bulls defense could be very solid against the run but they were not so solid when Penn State went vertical in the second half.

Four year starter Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert put up 3068 passing yards last season but his TD to interception ratio was not much better than 1:1. This season he has struggled as both Syracuse and Louisiana managed to keep him under pressure and off balance.

But in 2017 Buckshot threw 29 touchdowns against six interceptions. If he gets time he can really tear a secondary apart. UB’s pass rush will be the key to keeping this team in check.

If the Bulls manage to muzzle Buckshot they will have to contend with, and contain, Frankie Hickson who was a 1,000 yard rusher last season. Liberty would rather throw the ball all day long, it’s their bread and butter, but they can manage to keep drives going on the ground.

On the other side of the ball the Bulls will look to serve up a heavy does of Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks. The UB backs each managed respectable games against Penn State and this week, on paper, they are facing a much more vulnerable run defense.

Thus far this season Liberty has given up 200 yards to Syracuse and more than 400 yards to Louisiana.

Which is just as well because the Bulls are a little banged up.

UB is probably going to be missing tight end “Cowbell” Zac Lefebvre who was on crutches and the explosive Antionio Nunn is playing but has been nursing an injury. So while Matt Myers has looked good in the role of starting Quarterback his weapons cache is somewhat depleted.

That brings us to special teams, and what a concern they are for Buffalo this week.

The season ending injury to Evan Finegan has had a cascade effect that put Buffalo’s backup quarterback, Kyle Vantrease, as punter and UB’s “emergency quarterback” and WR Dominic Johnson is now the place holder.

UB has had a very solid place kicking unit so far this season, but to inject new chemistry between Jeremiah Riordan, Johnson, and kicker Alex McNulty into the mix on one weeks notice is a big risk.

What happens:

Liberty is perhaps the first “honest” test that Lance Leipolds team faces this season. Something that Leipold alluded to in this weeks press conference.

Liberty is not Penn State, a top tier Big 10 team with a legit shot at the playoff. The flames are also not Robert Morris, who lost last week to a division II team.

They are a mid-major, one that themselves saw six wins as a possibility in 2019. Both the Bulls AND Liberty could really use this particular game if they want that 7th win which could be needed for a Bowl invitation.

If the UB team who played the first half at Penn State shows up the Bulls should comfortably win this game. They will be able to establish the run early, chew up clock, and use pressure defense to force Buckshot into some questionable throws.

The game may be decided coming out of the half. Freeze is a solid coach and will make half time adjustments, last week after Penn State made some adjustments the Bulls were caught flatfooted and were rolled over in the third quarter.

It was a similar script to the 2018 MAC Championship game and UB’s appearance in the Dollar General Bowl. It’s something UB needs to avoid, particularly against teams with the tools in place for a quick strike passing attack, like Liberty.