Each week, Voice of Bulls Football Paul Peck will preview the upcoming game.
Buffalo (1-4, 0-1 MAC) vs. Ball State (3-3, 0-2 MAC)
Thursday night on his radio show, Bulls head coach Lance Leipold called Saturday's UB-Ball State game a matchup of two of the top young quarterbacks in the MAC. He's right, as Cardinals sophomore Riley Neal squares off against Bulls redshirt freshman Tyree Jackson. But more than that, I thought about something else I'm looking forward to on Saturday. A matchup of "real quarterbacks." Too much of college football these days features athletic runners at the QB position. Very few of them are asked to be quarterbacks in the traditional sense. I understand why. It's hard to find those guys, and you can win without them. Last week, Bulls fans watched a quarterback beat them who completed only 7/13 passes for less than 100 yards.
Jackson and Neal are pocket passers who can run. Both are big. That makes them somewhat unique these days, but it still makes them fun to watch. UB fans have been spoiled by Drew Willy and Joe Licata, who focused on dissecting defenses with their arms. Each week, Jackson shows a growing understanding of the passing game. Neal is already making his 16th start. So enjoy football purists. Games like this are becoming rare.
Bull Session Trivia: Any game against Ball State brings up memories of the biggest win in Bulls football history, the 2008 MAC Championship. UB beat the then 12th ranked Cardinals 42-24. The game turned on back-to-back fumble returns for touchdowns that gave the Bulls the lead for good. Can you name the two UB defenders who scored those touchdowns?
Bullseye on: Buffalo Offense
Jackson continues to grow in the Bulls offense. His 20/39, 250 yard performance against Kent State were all career high numbers. He completed passes to nine different receivers, and started to get the ball to his playmakers. But much like the Bulls offense, he usually needs some time to warm up and adapt to the defense. Against the Golden Flashes, Tyree was 6/12 for 71 yards in the first half, 14/27 for 179 yards in the second half. On the season, Jackson has thrown for 435 yards and 4 TD in the second half, just 290 yards and one TD in the first half…Even as he shakes his growing pains, there is one thing Jackson is already doing well. He is not turning the ball over. He has thrown just 2 interceptions. Of the MAC's starting QB's, only Western Michigan's Zach Terrell (0) has thrown fewer. Leipold described Tyree's demeanor as "calm. He never has a 'deer in the headlights' look."…Jackson is the MAC's 10th leading passer, and ranks 10th in total offense…The Bulls have been outscored 89-19 in the first half. UB's only first half touchdown came against Albany…The Bulls started their third different offensive line combination last week, mostly due to the absence of Tyler O'Henly. David Goldsby moved from right guard to right tackle. Freshman Tomas Jack-Kurdyla made his first start at right guard. Leipold says right tackle is Goldsby's more natural position. While the coach pointed out that very few freshman are starting on MAC offensive lines, he said Jack-Kurdyla did a solid job against Kent State…The line will get a big test from the Ball State defensive line. They have accounted for 16 of the Cardinals 23 sacks. Defensive end Anthony Winbush is 3rd in the MAC with six sacks. DE Joshua Posley has three sacks. Posley is third in the MAC with 8.5 tackles for loss. The two defensive ends will play wide, which will test UB tackles Goldsby and Roubbens Joseph. The Bulls have allowed only five sacks all season…Aggressive is the word to describe how the Cardinals play defense. The pass rush will force mistakes and make it easy on the coverage players….Ball State may be without starting cornerback Josh Miller, who is hurt…The Cardinals play a lot of man-to-man press coverage. That won't be new to the UB offense. They've seen plenty of that. They will until the Bulls receivers start to beat that coverage and get open more often…The Cardinals defense is a veteran group, with eight senior starters…Linebacker Sean Wiggins is a returning first team All-MAC player. His 49 tackles are 8th in the conference. He had 15 last week…Last week against Central Michigan, the Cardinals defense did not allow any offensive points in the second half, while forcing six Chippewas punts and getting five sacks.
Bullseye on: Buffalo Defense
Bulls defensive end Brandon Crawford noted the oddity of finally facing a traditional, passing offense. "It's weird to see a pocket passer. But it's comforting. The defensive line can get after the quarterback." Outside of the Boston College game, the Bulls defenders have not faced a team that seemed to want to pass. This week, they will. Neal is six-foot-six inches tall, and while he can run, his first tendency is to throw. He has topped 200 yards passing in four of the Cardinals six games this season. He averages 34 attempts per game. Neal is the MAC's 6th leading passer. His one issue this year in interceptions-six in six games. Last week against CMU, Neal had an interception returned for a touchdown that proved to be the winning points for Central Michigan….The reason for the Ball State offensive style? Head coach Mike Neu is a former Ball State quarterback, who spent the last two years in the NFL as the New Orleans Saints quarterback coach. Leipold noted that the Ball State offense expectedly has some NFL packages. But they don't have Drew Brees…Neal's top target is one of the top receivers in the MAC. KeVonn Mabon is third in the league with 37 grabs. He is four shy of 200 career catches. Surprisingly, Mabon does not have a TD catch this season….The Cardinals have been banged up at receiver. That's allowed freshman Damon Hazelton to step up. He has 19 catches to rank second on the team…But don't be fooled into thinking that BSU only wants to pass. Running back James Gilbert is third in the MAC in rushing, with 590 yards. He's had back-to-back 100 yards games. Gilbert is tied for the lead with eight touchdowns. Five of those scores have come in the last two games. He's been getting more carries lately because backup Darian Green is injured. He is doubtful for this weekend's game.…Facing so many run-first teams has allowed the Bulls to hold opponents to just 135 yards passing per game. That leads the MAC, and is fifth in the NCAA. The number is likely to go up this week…Khalil Hodge was "held" to six tackles against Kent State. His season total of 55 still ranks second in the MAC, and fifth in the NCAA…All the Bulls pass-related defensive stats (yardage, interceptions, sack) have been affected by the lack of passes they have faced. Opponents have thrown only 96 times against them. That's 59 fewer than then next MAC team, and 133 fewer than Eastern Michigan, which has been thrown on the most. The Bulls have found a nice niche for linebacker Jordan Collier. Playing on passing downs, he has two sacks, tied for the team lead….Defensive end Joe Keels, a transfer from Nebraska, is starting to get comfortable and makes a big play every week.
Bullseye on: Legacy of the 2008 MAC Championship
As pointed out in the trivia question, a rare game against Ball State gets Bulls fans thinking about the 2008 MAC Championship game, UB's only win against Ball State. What I'm thinking about is the legacy left by the players on that team. Five Bulls from that magical night in Detroit are still getting paid to play football, an amazing achievement. Those players laid the groundwork for the future of the program. RB James Starks continues his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers. QB Drew Willy is in the CFL, starting at QB for Toronto. WR Naaman Roosevelt is starring for the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders, and ranks among the league leaders in catches and yards. DB Josh Thomas is on the Dallas Cowboys injured reserve list. WR Ernest Jackson was hurt for that game, but is a starting CFL wideout in Edmonton. DE Steven Means of the Eagles was a redshirt that year. Maybe Khalil Mack and Branden Oliver were watching that night and Florida, and the results confirmed their choice to come to Buffalo.
Bulls fans will never forget that big win over Ball State. These players' achievements make that even easier.
Bull Session Trivia Answer: Mike Newton and Sherrod Lott scored 3:33 apart in the third quarter, both on long fumble returns.
Please join me, color analyst Jim Kubiak, sideline reporter Scott Wilson, game host Brad Riter and postgame host Bob Gaughan for the broadcast on the Bulls Football Network. Our pregame show starts at 2:30pm. You can hear it in Buffalo on ESPN 1520 (www.espn1520.com). A link to the online broadcast is also available at http://www.ubbulls.com/video/test-live2.