When the University at Buffalo and Ohio U. met up early last October at Peden Stadium, a feeling persisted of two teams traveling in opposite directions. UB was 1-3 and, as it turned out, about to suffer the third of six straight losses. Ohio was 5-0 and, as it turned out, en route to a seven-game winning streak that had at least one national publication portraying the Bobcats as another Boise State in the making.
Circumstances have changed, drastically so from the local viewpoint, as UB and Ohio renew their rivalry at 8 tonight at UB Stadium. The Bulls are 6-2 overall, top the MAC East at 4-0 and have won six straight games for the first time since 1959. Ohio is also 6-2 overall but, at 3-1 in the MAC, enters as the pursuer. UB is 9-3 since last Nov. 1, with two of the losses inflicted this season by teams currently in the Top Five – Ohio State and Baylor. Ohio is 7-5 over that same span and a home-field loss to Central Michigan on Oct. 12 suggested the Bobcats have vulnerabilities.
For Ohio, this game could qualify as must-win. A second conference defeat would leave the Bobcats begging for all kinds of help down the stretch with UB holding the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage. For UB, tonight’s ESPN2 game offers an opportunity to virtually knock from the race what has been the flagship program in the MAC East under Frank Solich, the former Nebraska coach who has led Ohio to a fifth-straight bowl-eligible season.
“We need to separate ourselves certainly,” said UB head coach Jeff Quinn. “Coach Solich has done an outstanding job. Five years bowl eligible. We’re striving to take full control of the MAC East at this point and that’s the opponent we have up next.”
“There’s no question against Buffalo we’re going to have to be hitting on all cylinders in all three of our units in order to get the win,” Solich said on last week’s MAC coaches teleconference.
Solich proceeded to tick off UB’s lofty national statistical rankings, its top-15 placement in sacks, interceptions and turnover margin.
“On the other side, they’re third in the country in terms of turnovers by their offense,” Solich said. “That’s a huge statistic for success and they’ve got that down.”
The last two meetings between the schools have been anything but dull. UB scored a 38-37 victory here in 2011, handing the Bobcats one of only three defeats on the season. UB’s Bo Oliver ran for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Last year Oliver sat out injured but UB jumped to a 14-0 lead that was halved by a kickoff return for a touchdown. It was a watershed moment. UB turned it over three times and was paralyzed by penalties in a 38-31 loss.
UB felt it let that one get away, and the hangover of the defeat lasted almost a month. What’s changed? The Bulls are older, wiser and possess a deepened confidence born of quarterback Joe Licata’s 9-3 record as a starter. Ohio counters with senior Tyler Tettleton, a three-year starter and the only quarterback in Bobcats history to achieve 8,000 career passing yards.
“We know it’s going to be a four-quarter battle,” Quinn said. “We’ve had those games with Ohio. Even last year I look back at it, what was the difference in that game? A 100-yard kickoff return and over 97 yards of penalty yards that kept the field position in their favor.
“It’s a classic matchup.”
This will be the last game at UB Stadium for UB’s senior class. After this the Bulls play two on the road before concluding the season in Ralph Wilson Stadium in a Black Friday game with Bowling Green. Tonight’s game will be preceded by the last concert in the season-long pregame tailgate series. Strictly Hip opens at 6 p.m.