In recent years, the University at Buffalo was able to compete with a high-scoring offense. But this is a new season filled with new challenges and for the offense, new concerns.
While the defense held its own against Akron last Saturday, the Bulls' offense struggled. UB gained just 169 yards, averaging a mere 3.4 yards per play, and failed to convert on 11 of 15 third-down attempts.
The Bulls will need to shore up that side of the ball when they visit Connecticut (0-2) at Memorial Stadium tonight (7, Radio 1520).
"There have been some big-play opportunities on offense over the years that we were able to capitalize on when people came after us," UB coach Craig Cirbus said. "I don't have any answers to why we weren't able to last week."
Akron deserves much of the credit for UB's offensive woes. The Zips' defensive front won the battle with the Bulls' offensive line. Akron crowded the line with eight- and nine-man fronts to shut down UB's running game and put constant pressure on quarterback Joe Freedy, who was making his first start.
After watching film, Cirbus said he didn't see anything that can't be corrected. It will have to be if the Bulls want to beat Connecticut, which is moving up to Division I-A next year.
The Huskies have been outscored, 101-31, and yielded 498 yards per game in losses to Hofstra and Kentucky. But they should be fired up to play in the home debut for new coach Randy Edsall.
"This will be a great test for our kids because we've played them three times and haven't been able to bring home a win yet," Cirbus said. "And we're playing them at the absolute worst time. A new coach, first home game, a night game, on the doorstep of I-A football themselves. . . . They absolutely have to have a win.
"But we feel confident we're going to play a better game than we played in the first game."
The Bulls shouldn't lack motivation. Their last visit to UConn in 1997 was a 55-0 defeat. UB set a dubious NCAA record by becoming the first team to run more than 100 offensive plays in a game (112) and not score.
"I think a lot of us remember what happened the last time we were there," UB flanker Drew Haddad said. "Losing, 55-0, I don't think that would sit well with any football player. We definitely have a little score to settle with them."
UB must first find a way to score. It had only one sustained drive against Akron, and that ended with a turnover.
The Bulls will be thin at tailback as junior Theron Walker is the only healthy player. Sophomore Derrick Gordon is expected to miss his second straight game. Freshman Bam McDonald, who suffered a sprained knee last week, accompanied the team to UConn but his availability will be a game-time decision. Converted fullback Marvin Brereton probably will share the duties with Walker.
The Bulls will try to establish the run, but they must be more physical up front to do it effectively.
"We have to line up and start pounding people," said fullback Josh Roth, who was held to 36 yards last week. "That's how we're going to win games."
Akron showed no fear of UB's passing attack. Freedy threw just 17 times and his six completions went to only two receivers. With a game under Freedy's belt, Haddad expects the coaches to open up the offense a little more.
Meanwhile, UB's defense will be short-handed as starting tackle Josh Stello is out for several weeks with a dislocated left tibia. His place will be taken by freshman Kyle Kampf.
UConn's offense is trying to round into shape. The Huskies are led by junior quarterback Brian Hoffmann (345 yards and two TDs), a first-year starter, and junior flanker John Fitzsimmons, who had a career-high 10 catches against Kentucky.
Elsewhere in local college football:
Buffalo State (1-0) meets Adrian (1-1) at Coyer Field at 1 (91.3 FM). The Bengals, who had a bye last week, beat Adrian, 31-10, last year. This game shapes up as a matchup of offenses. Buffalo State rolled up 517 yards (327 rushing) in a 32-20 win over Robert Morris two weeks ago. Adrian has a good passing attack, led by quarterback Joe Davis (36 of 65 for 550 yards and four TDs). "Defending their passing game will be a challenge," State coach Jerry Boyes said. "It all comes down to execution. We want to be very sound. We want to force a team to beat us with long drives, not big plays."
Canisius (1-0) opens its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference slate at St. Peter's (0-1). The Griffs are unbeaten in this series, and should make it nine in a row against a Peacocks team that were punchless in a 20-0 season-opening loss to Marist. Quarterback Bryan Roland (St. Joe's) is expected to play after suffering a lacerated chin in last week's win at Rochester. Even if he can't go, the Griffs have a capable backup in Mark Nachreiner (North Tonawanda). "It's a winnable game for us," Canisius coach Chuck Williams said. "But we have to take care of business."