The University at Buffalo found a promising quarterback in Joe Freedy, but seems to have lost a once-productive running game.
The Bulls are averaging a Mid-American Conference-low 65 yards per game on the ground. They had just six yards in last week's 23-0 loss at Connecticut, and it took a 9-yard run in the final seconds to reach that figure.
The search for the ground attack continues when UB (0-2, 0-1) faces Ohio University (0-3) in a televised MAC game at Peden Stadium tonight (7, Empire, Radio 1520).
Actually, the entire offense hasn't done very well, ranking last in the MAC at 195.5 total yards per game. The running game is under the most scrutiny because it was supposed to be the strength of the offense. The offensive line and most of the running backs who accounted for a school-record 2,463 yards last year are still with the team.
"I don't think there's one specific thing that you can point out and say this is the problem and we need to fix this," said Freedy, one of the few bright spots on offense the first two weeks. "The problem isn't in the players we have. Obviously it's frustrating, but we're so close to where we need to be. It's a big challenge for us."
An even greater challenge for the Bulls has been staying healthy. The offense especially has been plagued by a series of injuries since the preseason. UB is still hurting at tailback, where projected starter Derrick Gordon has been out three weeks with a high ankle sprain. He is doubtful tonight.
Current starter Theron Walker, who has minus-2 yards on eight carries, is questionable. He hasn't practiced since Monday because of a deep thigh contusion. Redshirt freshman Bam McDonald, who has a team-high 52 yards on 13 carries, is expected to replace Walker. Little-used Marvin Brereton, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound sophomore, may see more action if Walker can't go.
Fullback Josh Roth is expected to start, although he suffered a neck stinger earlier in the week. The Bulls' top rusher last year has struggled mightily this season, averaging only 21 yards per game and two yards per carry.
The MAC's third-ranked defense isn't in great shape either. The status of starting defensive end Bob Dzvonick is in question after he spent most of the week in the hospital with a knee infection. His backup, senior Tom Matteson (Clarence), injured his neck in practice Wednesday and is listed as doubtful. Redshirt freshman Steve Fleming will start for Dzvonick, who made the trip and could see some action.
True freshman Kyle Kampf, who replaced injured starting nose tackle Josh Stello last week, will be less than 100 percent because of a pulled lower back muscle.
"We're not making excuses," UB coach Craig Cirbus said. "Injuries are a part of football."
The Bulls' banged-up defense has a difficult task trying to contain Ohio's triple option, an offense that is hard to prepare for and even harder to stop.
The Bobcats are led by 17-year-old Dontrell Jackson (309 total yards), the nation's only true freshman starting quarterback. Sophomore tailback Jamel Patterson is the top rusher (226 yards) and scorer (three TDs), while Z-back Raynald Ray is a threat receiving (113 yards on six catches) and running (100 yards on 22 carries). Ohio also features a mammoth offensive line, which averages close to 300 pounds per man.
"This is a big test for our scheme because Ohio has such a unique offense," said UB defensive coordinator Joe Reich. "You have to prepare for a lot of things -- wishbone, spread, power-I, two-back, one-back. It will be interesting to see how we do."
Cirbus agrees. "Defensively, the question is can we hang in there and play assignment-perfect football and have the faith that if I do my job, the other 10 will do theirs," he said. "This is a super time to play Ohio in terms of can we graduate to the next level defensively and as a team."
Ohio will be confident coming off a loss at 12th-ranked Ohio State that was closer than the 40-16 score. The Bobcats led, 10-3, in the second quarter and the game was tied, 10-10, at halftime. Their other losses were to Minnesota and Northern Iowa, which is ranked fourth nationally in Division I-AA.
Ohio bombed UB, 50-0, in the last meeting in 1997, but Bobcats coach Jim Grobe doesn't think he'll have any trouble getting his team fired up tonight.
"We're 0-3, so we're in no position to overlook anyone," he said. "Plus, I think Buffalo is a much better team than it was back in '97. The game we played back then has no bearing on what happens (tonight)."