It's Buffalo vs. Connecticut today at Memorial Stadium, a venue where plenty of good seats are available and observers are certain to see two teams fighting and scratching for pretty much the same thing.
So what are they fighting for? Respect for one, and a victory wouldn't hurt. And because the teams are so evenly matched, one can expect a close, competitive game this afternoon (1, 550 AM).
"There's probably a tremendous amount of similarities between the two teams," said UB coach Jim Hofher. "It's probably the most favorable matchup we would have seen so far in terms of our players and their players. There are so many things that are similar."
How similar? UConn has three redshirt freshmen along the offensive line, UB has two redshirt freshmen and two sophomores. UB is more experienced defensively, as is UConn. The Huskies are playing with a redshirt freshman at quarterback, and the Bulls played the majority of their last game with a redshirt freshman behind center.
Both teams are searching for their first win.
And, really, that's exactly the common ground for the Bulls (0-2) and the Huskies (0-2), who have both been underwhelming this year as they try and climb to respectability on the Division I-A level. The Huskies, an independent program, play 10 I-A opponents in their second season of transition from I-AA. Membership in the Big East is scheduled for 2005.
The Bulls have lost four in a row dating back to last season and are coming off a 35-0 thumping at the hands of Bowling Green. They've been outscored, 66-15, over the last two games and have rushed for only 98 yards.
After showing some promise in their 31-15 loss to Rutgers, the Bulls came apart offensively two weeks ago against the Falcons. The running game has become nonexistent, and the play at quarterback has been inconsistent. Hofher considered making a change at quarterback but said Thursday that fifth-year senior Joe Freedy will start, although redshirt freshman Randall Secky will see action early.
"We need a higher level of consistency and decision making," Hofher said. "Joe has more experience, and that really needs to show up. It didn't (vs. Bowling Green)."
The Huskies have lost their last six, including two this year to Virginia Tech and I-AA Eastern Washington. Coach Randy Edsall's roster is so young, he may have to schedule nap time before practice. Thirty of UConn's top 44 players are either freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores. Only seven seniors are on the roster.
In addition to the three redshirt freshmen starting on the offensive line, the Huskies have three in the backfield. Defensively, the ends are first-year starters, while the secondary features a redshirt freshman, two sophomores and a junior. The linebacking corps is a veteran unit with two seniors in Justin Cook and Kamari Stroman and a junior in Jamal Lundy.
"We're building our program through youth, and with youth there's inexperience and there's some things as a coach you end up shaking your head at that happen out there," Edsall said.
UConn's 35-17 loss to Eastern Washington highlighted its main blemish: an anemic offense. UConn took a 7-0 lead early but managed only a field goal until the final minutes of the game.
But considering the Huskies are at home and because they've beaten the Bulls the last six years, the Huskies would seem to be the safer bet. The key may lie in UB's ability to stop the run. The Huskies have passed for only 214 yards this season and haven't found much success on the ground, either (82 yards per game).
"We really haven't stopped anyone on the run yet for someone to give up and just start passing on us," said UB senior linebacker Bobby Johnson. "They have a couple of good backs, no one out of the ordinary that I've seen, but they're pretty good. As long as we're able to stop the run, I think the pass will be a little bit easier to stop and we can start shutting teams down."
UB-UCONN AT A GLANCE
Buffalo (0-2) vs. Connecticut (0-2)
1 p.m. at Memorial Stadium, Radio 550
What's at stake: Actually, a great deal for both teams. The Bulls need a win not just to begin wiping away the distressing memory of the Bowling Green debacle, but also to prove they can beat a team that isn't much better than they are, if at all. The Huskies, losers of their last six games, were hammered by Virginia Tech and Division I-AA Eastern Washington to open the season. After losing nine of their last 10 games dating back to last season, they need this one for morale more than anything.
What to expect: Fifth-year senior Joe Freedy will start at quarterback for UB, but redshirt freshman Randall Secky will see some action early. Freedy repeatedly torched the Huskies' secondary last year and that should bode well for the Bulls. But UB still needs to have some semblance of a running game. Sophomore Marquis Dwarte is now the starting tailback, but Derrick Gordon and former starter Albert Gundy will also play. UConn is quite young with only four senior starters and a trio of redshirt freshmen in the backfield. The Huskies average a mere 13.5 points, led by quarterback Keron Henry. Like UB, UConn isn't much of a running team.
Now you know: UB will wear a United States flag decal on its helmets for the remainder of the season. . . . Bulls coach Jim Hofher grew up less than an hour from the UConn campus in Middletown, Conn. . . . This is the 12th meeting between UB and UConn and the Huskies hold an 8-3 series lead.