The University at Buffalo football season took another ominous turn Saturday night in Reno, Nev.
It wasn’t that the Bulls lost to Nevada, which was an 11.5-point favorite. It was that UB’s supposed strength – its mostly experienced defense – got crushed.
Nevada rushed for 352 yards in a 38-14 destruction of the Bulls. Nevada’s running game is high-quality. But a less-experienced UB defense managed to hold essentially the same Nevada offense to 24 points last season.
Brace yourself, UB fans.
Next up is Army, which improved to 3-0 Saturday with a 66-14 win over Texas-El Paso. Army rushed for 424 yards on UTEP. The Black Knights’ wishbone offense ranks No. 4 in the nation in rushing with an average of 338 yards a game.
“It’s not at all what we expected,” said UB coach Lance Leipold. “I don’t think we played with very good pad level. We didn’t tackle very well. I think we were on our heels quite a bit. It’s shockingly disappointing. I think we’re better than that.”
With a visit to Boston College following the Army game, UB is staring at an 0-4 start. After that comes two of the most winnable games on the schedule, home tests against two Mid-American Conference bottom-feeders, Kent State and Ball State.
Leipold and his assistants have a ton to sort out before the start of the conference season.
Red-shirt freshman quarterback Tyree Jackson and a young UB offense need the defense to keep the team in games. It didn’t come close to happening in Nevada.
The Wolf Pack averaged 7.1 yards a carry on first-down running plays and scored on six of its first eight possessions - without the aid of any UB turnovers.
The plays and yards on Nevada’s TD drives: eight for 66, 15 for 87, 11 for 75, 13 for 75, 15 for 75.
“I just think we weren’t getting off blocks on the perimeter, as well as the second and third levels, as well as needed to,” Leipold said. “Yeah, we’ve got to get better at it. You’ve got to credit them some, too.”
UB’s defensive line looked great in the spring game, throughout training camp and in the preseason scrimmage. Of course, that was against UB’s young offensive line. Nevada has the most veteran, top-rated offensive line in the Mountain West Conference, and UB’s front four could not get across the line of scrimmage and create disrupt the flow of the Wolf Pack runners.
“I agree with you there,” Leipold said of the defensive line’s penetration ability in training camp. “I don’t know if that’s a tale of we’re just not quite there yet or it’s not where we want to be on the offensive line. Either way it’s concerning.”
Defensive tackle Remaine Douglas, a graduate-student transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette who dominated in camp, was a non-factor against Nevada. Ditto for grad-transfer Joe Keels, from Nebraska. Keels crashed too hard on the dive fake to allow Nevada QB Tyler Stewart get around end on a 9-yard TD run, the first score of the game. There was enough blame for everyone.
“Obviously we’re disappointed,” said defensive end Demone Harris. “I still felt our coaches put us in the best position they possibly could. We just have to have better execution and better consistency.”
UB defensive coordinator Brian Borland runs some effective zone-dogs, but he used almost none of his pressure packages because Stewart usually was throwing from second-and-short and third-and-short situations. Stewart hit 16 of 21 passes for 160 yards.
“I feel like after first and 10, we put them in second and short too often,” said UB linebacker Khalil Hodge. Linebackers coach Chris Simpson “always says, you can do anything you want when it’s second and 2 or second and 3. I feel like that was a big deal.”
UB offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki has plenty to ponder, too. While red-shirt freshman quarterback Tyree Jackson was impressive with his feet (87 rushing yards on eight carries), he hit just 7 of 23 passes.
Why UB wasn’t able to manufacture some safe, short receiver passes (no UB wideout had a catch) figures to be a point of emphasis for the coaches.
“We’re going to try to put this past us and get ready for Army,” Hodge said.