The efficient rushing attack that has fueled the University at Buffalo’s offense this season knows what it is facing across the line of scrimmage Friday. Bowling Green has been resourceful against the run, which has been the mainspring behind its unremitting defense.
Trevor Sales, Andre Davis and the rest of the Bulls’ offensive line are fortifying themselves for their biggest test of the conference season with the Mid-American Conference East Division title hanging in the balance.
UB ranks fourth in the MAC in rushing, averaging 186.2 yards per game behind the conference’s second leading rusher in senior tailback Branden Oliver. Flip the coin and Bowling Green’s run defense, led by linebacker D.J. Lynch, is first in the MAC at 145.7 yards allowed rushing per contest.
The Bulls (8-3, 6-1) host the Falcons (8-3, 6-1) at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Having the East Division title and a berth into the MAC title game dangling before their eyes is motivation enough, but the memory of how difficult it was to gain yards on the ground in last year’s matchup adds another layer of incentives.
Devin Campbell ran for 26 yards and was the team’s leading rusher. Oliver averaged 2.2 yards a carry on nine attempts, as did Brandon Murie on just four tries. The Bulls produced a grand total of 29 yards rushing in a 21-7 season finale loss.
“We didn’t control the line of scrimmage and we didn’t have a 100 percent Bo Oliver,” UB coach Jeff Quinn said. “Some of that were the sacks and tackles for a loss but we just didn’t control the line of scrimmage.”
For the Falcons, it was merely another day in the office as they led the MAC in rush defense by limiting opponents to 106.5 yards a game. They remain atop the league against the run as well as in total defense (302.1), passing defense (156.4), pass defense efficiency (109.4), first-down defense (16.0), and red-zone defense (56 percent).
“Hats off to them. They had a great team last year and they’re great this year as well, obviously one of the best in the country,” said Sales, the junior center. “That was an old team, we’re a new team now and they’re a new team as well.”
Said Davis, the Maryvale product: “We can’t think about the past, it’s all about right now. All we’re trying to do right now is beat BG, that’s all we care about. We don’t care about last year.”
In several MAC games, the Bulls asked the offensive line to create space against eight- and nine-man fronts. Buffalo’s offensive line has aced every challenge.
The proof is the play of Oliver, tied with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon as the nation’s eighth leading rusher with 1,375 yards as well as 14 TDs.
“I think we really start to click as a group up front and that’s a big part of it,” Sales said. “Bo is not a very hard guy to block for and he makes us look good.”
Sophomore left tackle John Kling (Depew) has become adept at reading defenses and blitz packages. Kling’s reads are relayed to Davis and to Sales, who informs right guard Robert Blodgett and right tackle Jakes Silas about the change.
“We started to know the ins and outs of every situation possible,” Davis said.
“If we’re not a cohesive unit,” Sales said, “Bo’s not getting any yards.”
Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson hopes Friday’s game in The Ralph is a more memorable experience than his last one.
Thirty years ago, when he was a high school junior, Clawson played quarterback for Lew-Port in a playoff game at then Rich Stadium and tossed three interceptions in a playoff game against Williamsville South.
“I threw three bingos that day and we did not win,” Clawson said during his media session this week. “We had a tremendous tailback by the name of Daryl Johnston.”
That led to a funny exchange between Clawson and a young reporter about Johnston, who went on to attend Syracuse and play 11 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys (1989-99). The reporter, obviously born long after 1983, asked Clawson, “whatever happened to him?”
“He had a decent career,” Clawson said smiling. “He went on to Syracuse, started there and then played for the Cowboys.”
“That would be the Dallas Cowboys?”
“That would be the Dallas Cowboys, that’s Moose Johnston,” Clawson said. “He was our tailback and he did everything. He returned kicks, he returned punts, he kicked, he punted. He did everything. Great player.”