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UB AND BOWLING GREEN BEGIN MAC PLAY WITH CLEAN SLATES

University at Buffalo football coach Craig Cirbus has been reminding his players they are still undefeated in the Mid-American Conference.

That speech should be old before tonight's late local news comes on. If not, the Bulls would be the top story.

Bowling Green visits UB Stadium at 7 p.m. (Radio 550) in the MAC opener for both winless East Division teams.

There is a difference, however, in the schools' 0-3 records. While two of UB's losses were to Division I-A dregs Connecticut and Rutgers, Bowling Green had its moments against Michigan, Pittsburgh and Temple.

"Enormously deceiving," Cirbus said of the Falcons' record. "Pitt is an awfully good football team. Michigan was night and day. Michigan just walked in with talent. Temple is a really good football team. That 0-3 . . . don't fool yourself. Bowling Green's a pretty good football team."

Falcons coach Gary Blackney is taking the same conference-minded approach to tonight's game.

"This is a big game because it's a conference divisional game and because we're going into Buffalo with the same record," Blackney said. "It's important for both teams to get a win.

"We've played a difficult non-league schedule, but you can only tell your players they're good for so long, and then that confidence and self-esteem has to be backed up by winning."

Bowling Green is a 21-point favorite to push UB's losing streak to 19 games, a skid that would tie for the nation's longest. Ball State is idle this weekend with 19 straight losses.

Cirbus claims the Falcons' stats are as misleading as their record. None of their backs have rushed for more than 64 yards or a touchdown this season. In their past two games, they have been held to 61 yards on 68 carries.

Bowling Green quarterback Andy Sahm has accounted for all five of the team's touchdowns. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound sophomore from Indianapolis has completed 49 of 102 passes for 588 yards and four TDs with one interception. He also has rushed for a score.

"The Bowling Green program has traditionally been a pound-you, power football club, nothing super fancy," Cirbus said. "This quarterback has had some pretty good statistics and they have been able to throw the ball, so they may be a little more balanced (this year).

"Personality-wise, I think they would like to establish the run, but they won't be afraid to throw the ball when they need to.

"We have to put together a package to stop all 11 and not just focus on one person or one position."

Bowling Green has had difficulty igniting its ground game, mostly because of injuries on the line and in the backfield, most notably its starting center and right guard and last year's second-leading rusher, Godfrey Lewis.

"We're as banged up as we've ever been in my time here," said Blackney, in his 10th year as Falcons boss. "I'm more concerned about what we can do" than what UB can do.

Cirbus is confused by Bowling Green's defensive numbers. It has allowed 107 points this year.

"I see a really good defense out there," Cirbus said. "I've watched every lick of their defense against Michigan, against Pitt, against Temple, and I'm confused to see the other team has points on the board. You just don't know where these points are coming from."

Falcons opponents are averaging 286 passing yards and 151 rushing yards a game. Bulls running back Derrick Gordon likes the rushing statistic in conjunction with his belief the offensive line has stabilized.

"We're encouraged because our line played so well last week, and we know if we continue that, we will be able to run against Bowling Green," Gordon said. "Our line has really been stepping up week-by-week, and with their help, us backs have an easy job."

UB, however, won't capitalize on any yards gained if it continues to turn the ball over. After getting through the first half against UConn without a miscue, UB quarterback Joe Freedy threw an interception and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter of the 24-21 loss.

The Bulls have committed 11 turnovers this year, while opponents have given up only three.

"We gotta eliminate that component of our game," Cirbus said. "There's nothing more frustrating. I'm glad I don't carry a sidearm during the game. You thought you've seen Bobby Knight get mad? I can't stand turnovers."

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