University at Buffalo coach Craig Cirbus and Canisius head man Chuck Williams believe challenges are opportunities for success. That theory will be put to the ultimate test today.
UB (2-3) travels to face three-time NCAA champion Youngstown State (5-0), the top-ranked Division I-AA team in the country, at 1 p.m. (Radio 1520). Canisius (2-2, 2-1) hosts Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference leader Georgetown (3-1, 3-0) at 1:30. Buffalo State has the week off.
UB is trying to rebound after giving up 135 points in three straight losses, including last week's 55-0 rout at Connecticut. In that game, the Bulls ran off an incredible 33 consecutive offensive plays in the third quarter and still failed to score a point.
Now comes a powerful Youngstown State team that will have a Homecoming crowd of more than 20,000 on hand to help the Penguins defend their No. 1 ranking.
Ever the optimist, UB coach Craig Cirbus believes an upset is possible. The challenge is getting his players to believe it, too.
Cirbus admits losing three games while dominating many of the statistical categories has shaken the players' confidence.
"They are not a senior unit who can brush off mistakes and bounce back the next play," said Cirbus, whose team upset Youngstown State, 9-6, two years ago. "The moment something bad happens, their confidence level sinks and we're not able to adequately rebound."
UB will need an error-free contest today. Youngstown State has been challenged just once (a 27-22 win over Hofstra) and is coming off a 33-0 win at Indiana State.
The last time the Penguins reached No. 1 was 1994, the year of their third national title in four seasons. Coach Jim Tressel, who won his 100th game last week, said this team is not that good yet.
"We feel we have the potential. The problem is 20 other teams feel they have the potential," he said. "That's the neat thing about having a playoff system. The bottom line is who turns their potential into reality."
Halfbacks Jake Andreadis (398 yards) and Adrian Brown (321) share the load, but quarterback Demond Tidwell has lit up secondaries. The fifth-year senior has completed 60 percent of his passes for 721 yards and four TDs.
Cornerback Anthony Pannunzio, one of six defensive players with 20 or more tackles, and end Harry Deligianis, who has four of the team's 15 sacks, anchor a Penguins' defense that ranks eighth in points allowed (12.2 per game).
"They're more difficult to defense because they are more balanced and they spread you all over the field," said Cirbus, whose team is yielding 34 points and 364 yards per game. "Defensively, they are tough and aggressive."
The Bulls have lost reserve flanker Rychard Dykes for the season with a separated shoulder. The sophomore had seven catches for 51 yards and averaged 18.5 yards on kickoff returns. Reserve split end Enrico Pierre is doubtful with a sprained ankle. Starting flanker Jamie Gasparre could return after missing last week's contest with a shoulder injury.
With the possible exception of defending MAAC champ Duquesne, Georgetown may be Canisius' toughest opponent this season. Williams is mostly concerned about the Hoyas' aggressive defense, which rotates a lot of people in an effort to wear down offenses.
"What they are able to do on defense is substitute personnel packages on every down," Williams said. "We may do such things as go no-huddle for two plays to keep their second-down people from coming on the field. But we don't want to get caught up in trying to counter everything they do. We'd like to set the tempo and I think we can do some things to negate their tremendous defensive pressure."
The best way would be to control the ball. That would mean another heavy dose of tailback Nick Adinolfi (West Seneca West). The 6-1, 202-pound junior set a school and MAAC record with 50 carries (for 151 yards) in a 14-7 win over Iona last week.
He is averaging 36.5 carries per game and his 539 all-purpose yards (464 rushing) is more than half the team's total offense. He's also on pace to become Canisius' first 1,000-yard rusher since George Benedict, who ran for 1,030 in 1990.
"Nick is a punishing runner who thrives on work," Williams said. "He's our gun, so as long as he's healthy we're going to shoot him."
The Griffs have the 10th-best defense in Division I-AA and are No. 1 at forcing turnovers (5.3 per game). They'll be tested by the Hoyas, who feature all-time leading rusher Steve Iorio and the school's career leader in TD passes, quarterback Bill Ward.
Ward has thrown for more than 700 yards and 11 touchdowns, to eight different receivers.