Even though this week's result was a win, the UB victory over Florida Atlantic left me scratching my head more times than not. In my prediction on last week's episode of Bulls and Beers I boldly (and incorrectly) stated that the UB offense would get into a shootout with FAU and put up big numbers. Then, yesterday happened, and Joe Licata barely threw for over 100 yards, and the offense as a whole seemed out of sync from the start. What I, or any Bulls fan for that matter, didn't expect was the defense to be so opportunistic, generating 5 turnovers, with 3 being returned for scores.
After last week's offensive mess against Penn State I wrote this:
So before you get your pitchforks out, take a step back and see that the offense can work.
The coaching staff is still new and three of the players on the offensive line are new, so mistakes will happen, and they will be amplified in an environment like Beaver Stadium. If there were 0 penalties against the UB offense we would have a completely different story, but hanging on what-ifs is dangerous and we as fans should look for steady improvement throughout the season.
While I was able to write the Penn State game off as a pass due to the harsh weather conditions, and level of competition, I can't really do the same for this week's game. Coming into yesterday's game, the Florida Atlantic defense had allowed 724 yards passing and had 91 points scored on them. So for the UB offense to only score 10 points and put up a measly 105 yards passing, it's starting to become a concern.
The play-calling was unimaginative to say the least as UB seemed to have forgotten about the running game in the first quarter The first four UB drives resulted in two punts, a safety and an interception and Joe Licata dropped back to pass 10 times across those drives while Anthone Taylor only attempted 2 rushes and Jordan Johnson attempted 3. A particularly frustrating sequence that illustrated what was wrong was on UB's third drive. After a first down catch by Collin Lisa, Licata threw a 7-yard completion to Matt Weiser to set up 2nd-and-3. Short yardage situations on 2nd and 3rd down should be easy for UB given the stable of running backs at the offense's disposal. But, UB threw the ball twice more, both falling incomplete and stalling the drive in the process.
Joe Licata was largely ineffective for much of the game, save for a 28 yard pass to Marcus McGill on the first play from scrimmage and a 43 yard pass to Malcolm Robinson in the later stages of the 3rd quarter. The two aforementioned completions were 68% of Licata's yardage on the day. His remaining 8 completions only averaged 4.25 yards per completion, a poor number by any standard.
The running game and the reduction in mistakes of the offensive line from last week were positives to take away. Taylor broke the 100 yard plane for the second time this season and is averaging over 100 yards per game. While his counterpart, Jordan Johnson showed power and burst on his way to 66 yards and UB's lone offensive touchdown.
For the second week in a row Brian Borland's defense stole the show and the numbers speak for themselves. Four sacks, 8 tackles for loss, 5 turnovers and 3 touchdowns scored capped off a historic performance for the defense. While the yardage numbers may skew your view of how the defense performed, I can assure you that they were Gumby-esque in bending but not breaking against the Owl attack.
The entire front seven of the defense played an astounding game all around. Starting linebackers Okezie Alozie, Brandon Berry and Nick Gilbo combined for 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 passes defensed. Berry in particular has stepped up big time in the absence of regular starter Jarrett Franklin, who is still sidelined with a back injury. Berry led the team in tackles and tackles for loss this week, and has been a high energy player for the Bulls throughout the first 3 games of the season. Former walk-on and Lancaster native Travis Pitzonka also had the biggest game of his career so far. The former special teams ace who has seen significant time at linebacker this season picked up half a sack and put UB on the board with an astounding 60 yard fumble return for a touchdown.
The defensive line also had several standout performers but, the one name that stood out to me was Demone Harris. Harris is another former walk-on who secured a starting position as the strong-side defensive end. He has limited experience playing football, but has seen rapid growth in his development over the first 3 weeks of the season. Yesterday, Harris bullied the tackle he was matched up against all game long and was consistently in the FAU backfield disrupting plays.
The defensive backs also had another 2 interception game, bringing the team's season total to 4 - doubling the total from last season. Ryan Williamson had a beautiful interception on the 2 yard line when he read the FAU offense perfectly when they tried a trick play. Boise Ross also collected his second interception of the season, returning it for 39 yards and a touchdown. Ross is also the national leader with 8 passes defensed through the first 3 games. Ross and Marqus Baker have both been playing well and the defense as a whole is benefiting from it.
The only real negative that I can pull from this game was the 54 yard touchdown pass Jason Driskel had to Kamrin Solomon on the first play of the 4th quarter. The coverage was busted and Solomon was left wide open in the middle of the field and was able to scamper in for the score. It was one bad play, and luckily these types of plays are becoming more of an exception rather than the norm as they were last season.
For their efforts the defense even earned a Honda Helmet Sticker from ESPN, pretty neat.
The @UBFootball defense gets a #HondaHelmetSticker on #ESPNCollegeFootballFinal #UBBulls #NYBI pic.twitter.com/cL4T6EyTIK— UB Athletics (@UBAthletics) September 20, 2015
Another long kickoff return and a few near misses on punt blocks were the story for the special teams unit. The blocking has been poor in each game and will need to be improved as the season goes along. Adam Mitcheson was 1-of-2 on field goals, hitting a chip shot from 19 yards out and shanking a 35 yarder. Mitcheson is 2-of-4 for field goals on the season, not too great, but there is plenty of time and room for him to improve.
True freshman Cameron Lewis did have a brilliant play on a punt coverage, getting downfield and downing the ball at the 1 yard line before it could bounce into the end zone. An excellent heads up play by the frosh which set up the UB safety on the very next play.
By the Numbers
8 - Brian Borland's defense has forced 8 turnovers through the first 3 games of the season and is currently tied for 10th in the nation in turnovers forced. After forcing only 15 turnovers last season, the defense is on pace to force 32 turnovers, a number that would have been good for top 5 in the nation last season.
3 - Yesterday was Joe Licata's 3rd collegiate game where he was held without a touchdown pass, breaking a 14 game streak of at least one touchdown thrown. Licata and the offense have not been in sync, and the senior has been making mistakes that are unlike him and it showed.
4 - Only four more wins before UB is bowl eligible for the 3rd time in program history.