A University at Buffalo team that had doubts about if it was ever going to put an opponent away found room in the overhead compartment Saturday.
That's where the Bulls stuffed Central Michigan, jammed it high and out of the way before the game was barely an hour old. Quarterback P.J. Piskorik and the defense were the ones that did it, making everything appear so easy. The uncomplicated 36-6 victory over the Chippewas was a going-away present for the 13 seniors and unwrapped for the 6,490 spectators in UB Stadium.
For at least one Saturday, they weren't some plastic team, a bunch of parts assembled as a Mid-American Conference punching bag, pieces that seemed scattered after a four-game slide, including a loss last week to Kent State that was a program low point.
"I am really proud of how our guys bounced back and played a terrific football game," said coach Jim Hofher, who secured his seventh victory at UB. "We had to play terrific to win today, and we did."
It gave the Bulls their second win of the season, the most since 2001 when they finished 3-8 in Hofher's first season. The two MAC wins are the most by the Bulls since they finished 2-6 in 2000, Craig Cirbus' last season. It was also their first win since blowing out Central Florida, 48-20, on Oct. 2. But that didn't go down as smoothly as this one, in which the Bulls gained 387 yards of total offense and scored on four consecutive possessions in the second quarter to take a 28-0 halftime lead. It was a full-blown romp.
"When Alex Rodriguez swings the bat, he makes it look easy because he does it right," said senior right guard Erik Zeppuhar. "We did a lot of things right."
Piskorik, whose play has been uneven in his junior season, returned to his roots and rushed for a career-best 85 yards and one touchdown, a head-spinning, dive-in-the-end-zone dash that gave the Bulls a 21-0 lead with 6:01 remaining in the second quarter. Coming into the game, Piskorik had 74 yards rushing for the season, but he finished with 207 yards of total offense.
"I just went with my instincts," Piskorik said. "If I saw a lane I just looked for positive yards and help the team."
The defense didn't fold up like a lawn chair as it did the past two weeks and recorded a school-record eight sacks, led by two each from linebacker Rich Sanders and end Phil Jacques. The Bulls constantly applied pressure to Kent Smith, who threw for 184 yards and touchdown but was sacked seven times. Last week against Eastern Michigan, Kent tied a school record with five touchdown passes, rushed for two more and scored on a two-point conversion.
"As a defense, we came out with a different attitude from previous weeks," said Sanders, who finished with six tackles, including a safety with 11:32 left that gave the Bulls a 30-6 lead. "Basically, we knew what we were doing from the beginning of the week. . . . We just knew what we saw and stuck to it."
Said Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly: "Buffalo's game plan was the same as if I was on their sideline. Put eight guys on the line, man up on the receivers and come right at you."
This was a pivotal game in that the Bulls needed momentum heading into Connecticut and because the program needs to show progress under Hofher, who has one year left on his contract.
It was important to cool off the Chippewas (3-7, 2-5), who entered the game on a high after scoring 58 points in taking Eastern Michigan to four overtimes before losing by three. They had beaten Western Michigan two weeks ago in overtime, 24-21, and nearly knocked off Toledo before losing, 27-22.
But the Bulls' execution got the best of the Chippewas. When Piskorik wasn't making Central Michigan look bad with long runs, the Bulls were breaking up big plays like never before. It all began with the offensive line holding up against the Chippewas' rush, allowing Piskorik enough time to sit in the pocket before taking off and running. After the game, the offensive line gave coach Roy Istvan a Gatorade bath.
The defense forced the Chippewas off the field, giving the Bulls a first-half possession advantage of nearly seven minutes. Central Michigan may have been worn down after playing five overtimes over the last two weeks.
"We were three-and-out, three-and out," Kelly said. "We couldn't execute offensively."
UB knows the feeling. And it did something about it.
"Last week was a black eye, but just because you lose a game doesn't mean you have to carry a loser's attitude the following week," Zeppuhar said. "Guys did a little soul-searching and had more fun playing football, had an awesome week of practice and it carried over into the game. I'm not surprised by the result."