As the University at Buffalo’s game at Ohio State wore on last Saturday afternoon with the field temperature approaching 100 degrees and the humidity thick like tar, the Bulls withstood the taxing conditions much better than their counterparts.
Quarterback Braxton Miller and star linebacker Ryan Shazier were among a multitude of Buckeyes struck with cramping issues. UB had but two players requiring treatment. Down 23-0 in the first quarter, UB outscored the second-ranked Buckeyes 20-17 the rest of the way, another testament to their endurance.
The battle of heat-induced attrition was noteworthy on two fronts. One would have thought that Ohio State, playing at home, would have been the team able to better acclimate. And UB’s resistance to the heat further fuels its upset hopes for Saturday’s game at 23rd-ranked Baylor under the searing Texas sun. The forecast calls for a high of 96 degrees with zero chance of rain, which means the field temperature will push 120 degrees but the humidity won’t be as much of an issue. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
How does a team from Buffalo prepare for conditions that’ll rival those found in Death Valley?
“I would say number one, that starts in the offseason from Day One when these guys showed up – how we conditioned them, work to rest ratio,” said strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval. “That was a big part of it because all summer it was cool. We didn’t have very hot weather here. So we actually simulated less rest, higher work intensity.
“We saw that a little bit with Ohio State; we’ll definitely see that with Baylor with their hurry-up offense. So that would be No. 1: proper offseason conditioning.
“No. 2 would be the athletics trainers, strength and conditioning and coaches all having a unified idea of education. Every area these guys go to they get educated on how to hydrate, proper nutrition, that’s the other big thing. Hydration doesn’t start the day before the game. We’re talking about a week out what you eat, what kind of carbohydrates they put in their body, how they recover, stretching, ice, nutrition. So that’s a big part of it.”
The science of hydration extends behind drinking rivers of water, although players are encouraged to take in more than a gallon leading up to their afternoon practice sessions. If that’s all it involved one would expect neither team to withstand the heat much better than the other. But UB held a similar advantage in last year’s opener at Georgia, where more Bulldogs than Bulls were heat-affected, typically by leg cramping.
What is UB’s secret?
“The timing and the amount and the ratio of sodium and potassium,” Duval said. “That’s what I’ll say. We’re just very conscious with our guys, giving them different supplements that the NCAA permits us to give them to get them to retain sodium and the potassium.
“That’s a big part of it. The sodium-potassium pump in the body, you’ve got to keep that thing cleanly working and full of sodium and potassium.”
All the education in the world won’t have an impact unless a team practices what is preached.
“You look at the way our kids were able to go the distance, we had a couple guys that had minor issues but they had an awful lot of guys,” UB coach Jeff Quinn said. “And I know that that proves that these kids have taken full responsibility of how to hydrate, how to recover properly each and every day.
“We had over 27 players after Saturday’s game when we came back here that were all in their recovery mode, getting in the cold plunge, hydrating immediately after the game. I think there were times in the past guys would come home after a game, tough loss, and they would just split. Not this group. This group understands how important that was in terms of getting back in our building and starting the recovery.”
Peer pressure reinforces what’s stressed by the coaches and trainers. For a senior like Jasen Carlson, a starting guard from Southwestern High, this represents the last college go-round. He and the other seniors are determined to make sure the Bulls have every chance of reaching their potential.
“When you prepare all week and you’re drinking water and hydrating, drinking Gatorade, getting in the cold plunge, taking all the necessary steps, it makes it a lot easier come game time because you know there’s one aspect you don’t have to worry about as far as all the little things of the game,” Carlson said. “If you don’t take care of your responsibilities all week and you wait until Thursday or Friday to start hydrating, it’s going to be a problem. But we have a really good group of guys with this team and we all take responsibility for ourselves and our teammates making sure that everyone’s getting hydrated and taking necessary steps.”
When preparations start in July, game weeks require little in the way of adjustment, whether it’s the humid Midwest heat of Ohio or the furnace of Waco.
“We’re going to prepare the same way,” Duval said. “We’re going to increase the amounts and the frequency of the hydration. And we’re going to cross our fingers.”