Doubtless UB defensive end Chris Shelley spent the week studying film, acquainting himself with schemes, looking for the kind of edge that, regrettably, only the McDonalds and the Burger Kings of the world could have provided on short notice.
Shelley was about 40 Big Macs and 40 Whoppers shy of even footing against Central Michigan. He stands 6-foot-1, weighs 227 pounds. He used to be a linebacker, which is more his size. This season he's the Bulls' left defensive end, which Saturday night amounted to being the batter at the pancake house.
Shelley's job was to take on the right tackle on the Central Michigan line. Usually he was up against Adam Kieft, a redshirt freshman who goes 6-7, 300 pounds. But the Chippewas still are teaching Kieft the ropes, so sometimes they'd spell him with Paul Brieger, a 6-4, 305-pound junior.
"Sure it's frustrating," said Shelly. "But we play one-gap defense. As long as you're in your gap you're doing your job."
The mismatch was almost as insurmountable on the other flank. Jamie Guerra, UB's right end, is 6-3, 246. Standing across from him, blocking his path to the backfield, was Matt Brayton, a senior who has filled out to 6-7, 320.
It's no wonder Central Michigan, which goes 300 pounds across the offensive line, ran for 165 yards at Michigan State earlier this season. Nor was it unexpected when the Chippewas accumulated 186 ground yards by halftime of their methodical 16-8 victory over the Bulls at UB Stadium.
There's a reason UB ranks first in the Mid-American Conference and 11th in the nation in pass defense. Why risk an interception against a team you can run on with routine success? Robbie Mixon, CMU's starting tailback, averaged 7.8 yards on nine carries before leaving with injury. His backup, Terrence Jackson, rolled up 124 yards on 29 attempts.
The storyline will hold steady through UB's season. Last week's 37-20 victory over Connecticut was progress. It's always reassuring to know you can beat somebody on the road, even if it's a program the Bulls should have leapfrogged before 2001. At least they prevented the Huskies from running effectively, which can't be said for their losses to Rutgers, Bowling Green and Central Michigan.
Jim Hofher, the Bulls' first-year head coach, downplayed the huge size differential his defensive linemen faced Saturday. He praised Shelly's resolve, as he should have. Anyone willing to take that much abuse for the team deserves a back pat from the coach.
"We'll look at the tape and it will show a guy with grit and toughness", Hofher said. "Our guys did not back down regardless of whatever the disadvantage was."
The tape also will show UB's linebackers working feverishly to deal with all the traffic coming their way. Bobby Johnson played a part in 17 tackles, eight of them solos. Duane Williams was in on a dozen tackles, seven of them his own.
"I think there was certainly quite a bit of room," Hofher said. "The line of scrimmage was moving some. And I take my hat off to them. They've got a good unit. They created some movement. They had an awfully big back. Maybe the worst thing we did was knock their first-string tailback out of the game because then the next guy came in and was a really a big, strong, powerful guy."
It would be nice if the Bulls could counter with a running game of their own, put a few sustained drives together, get the defense off the field for a long spell or two. Instead, they continue to struggle behind an inexperienced line that has four first-time starters. Tailback Marquis Dwarte totaled 82 yards on 17 carries but the Bulls net was 42, a step down from both Rutgers (55) and Bowling Green (43). Hofher isn't making enough use of speedy wideout Maurice Bradford, a perpetual threat to go the distance.
Still, four games into the season it's easy to see the Bulls are getting closer to being competitive with the mid-level teams in the MAC. It won't happen this season. It won't happen until the offensive line matures and Hofher beefs up his defensive line. But the progress is more visible than it ever was during the Craig Cirbus era.
The Bulls have enough athletes.
They need players with bigger appetites.