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Bulls get back to basics this week

The University at Buffalo is using this week almost like a bye week and is honing in on the fundamentals.

UB's next game is Tuesday at Ohio University (2-6, 1-3 Mid-American Conference), a span of 10 days since its last game, a 27-24 overtime victory over Army on Oct. 18. The Bulls (3-4, 1-2) are still fine-tuning their running game, which ranks 10th in the MAC at 114.7 yards a game. Defensively, the Bulls are working on tackling.

"You get into the middle of the season sometimes and guys lose a little bit of their technique," said UB coach Turner Gill. "So we're spending more time getting those guys ready to do more tackling. . . . It really comes down to execution. When you get further into the season, sometimes you lose your technique."

On special teams, Gill said the kickoff coverage unit made strides in its last game against Army but wants to see improvement from the kickoff return team. The Bulls are averaging 20.4 yards per return, which ranks 11th in the league and one touchdown, Ernest Jackson's 97-yard return at Missouri.

"We want to have an opportunity to break another long one like we did against Missouri," Gill said. "We want to get better field position from the kickoff return side."

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Junior tailback James Starks (Niagara Falls) is probable with turf toe. Starks, the team's leading rusher with 515 yards in five games, suffered the injury during the Western Michigan game two weeks ago and missed the Army game. Starks, who didn't play at Missouri because of a sore hip, hasn't practiced this week and Gill said he will be re-evaluated this weekend.

Also probable is sophomore outside linebacker Raphael Akobundu, who didn't play against Army with a leg injury. Gill announced on Thursday that sophomore middle linebacker Tom Drewes will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a severe medial collateral ligament sprain in knee, the same injury that will sideline junior tailback Mario Henry for the same length of time. Drewes, who is also plays specials teams, has 15 tackles this season, including a sack.

Drewes and Henry join senior tight end Bryan Kisabeth and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Derrick Brown who are both out for the season with ACL injuries.

On the two deep for defense senior Adekunle Akingba, who tied a personal high with 10 tackles against Army, will back up Akobundu at outside linebacker ahead of true freshman Imani Chatman. Senior Chris Callahan, who also plays defensive end, will backup Scott Pettigrew at middle linebacker in place of Drewes, and true freshman Ray Anthony Long will backup sophomore Justin Winters at the other outside linebacker ahead of redshirt freshman John Syty (Clarence).

There are no changes on offensive two deep.

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Senior quarterback Drew Willy is 299 yards shy of the school record for passing yards in a career. He currently has 7,279 yards passing, behind only Cliff Scott (1991-94) who passed for 7,578 yards. Willy already holds the record for career completions and is 13 attempts shy of the school record for career pass attempts. He is also three touchdown passes shy of the school record.

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UB has a plus-5 turnover margin with 13 takeaways and eight turnovers, which ranks fourth in the MAC. Northern Illinois leads the league with plus-7, while Ohio is 11th at minus-3. . . . Junior receiver Naaman Roosevelt (St. Joseph's) is the league leader in receiving yards per game with 91.0. . . . UB is looking for its first win at Ohio since joining the MAC in 1999. . . . With 189 points scored, the Bulls are 11 points shy of scoring 200 points for the third consecutive year. Prior to Gill's hiring, the Bulls only eclipsed the 200-point barrier twice as a Division I-A program. . . . A win against Ohio would improve the Bulls to 4-4 and UB would enter November with a .500 record for the first time in its Division I-A history.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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