The University at Buffalo's football season, which last week skidded wildly toward frightful, swerved all the way to discouraging and blew a gasket.
The slightest prospect of an upset was shooed away by a Syracuse team that was a lot more fear-provoking than it was last week against West Virginia. Led by tailback Damien Rhodes, the Orange popped the Bulls with a 24-0 lead by halftime before easing off the gas and gliding to a 31-0 victory in front of 34,442 at the Carrier Dome.
It was the Bulls' 16th consecutive loss on the road and third straight shutout dating back to last season. The Bulls have been outscored the last three games, 98-0.
"We have to find a way to become much more productive," said UB coach Jim Hofher.
Syracuse (1-1) certainly found its Rhodes to scoring.
The senior tailback was magnificent and would have eclipsed Syracuse great Joe Morris as the school's single game rushing leader had he been given more carries in the second half. But there was no need. As it was, Rhodes sliced UB for a career-best 236 yards and four touchdowns, each more pulsating than the last. Rhodes had 216 yards and scored on runs of 27, 50 and 54 yards by halftime.
The school record is 252 yards set by Morris in 1979 against Kansas.
"Big plays are the name of the game and he had a helluva game," said UB defensive tackle Rob Schroeder. "Our job was to stop him and we didn't get it done."
The way UB (0-2) is playing, a lot of school records will come tumbling down.
Rhodes' performance comes a week after Connecticut's Terry Caulley, who missed nearly two seasons with a knee injury, ripped the Bulls for 100 yards and a touchdown in a 38-0 season-opening loss to the Huskies. Opponents are averaging 34.5 points in two games on the Bulls but because of a lackluster offense, the unit spends an inordinate amount of time on the field. A week after piling up a measly 103 yards of total offense in a 15-7 loss to West Virginia that kicked off the Greg Robinson era, Syracuse rolled up 487 yards.
"On the plays where they had the big, long runs, we made mistakes," said UB senior defensive end Aaron Sanders, who had nine tackles, four for a loss and a sack. "We just weren't where we were supposed to be."
The Bulls generated only 123 yards of total offense Saturday, a week after getting only 137. Junior quarterback Stewart Sampsel was 4 of 18 for 19 yards and two interceptions -- both by senior free safety Anthony Smith -- which Syracuse converted into 10 points. Sampsel, who is 10 of 35 for 70 yards in two games, was sacked four times.
The running game -- 50 yards, 1.7 yards per carry -- was just as ineffective, but that was because Syracuse crowded the line of scrimmage and invited Sampsel to pass. The answer to UB's quarterback misery could be true freshman Drew Willy, who came in with 14:55 left and completed 5 of 9 passes for 54 yards. He looked comfortable in the pocket, avoided the Syracuse pressure and looked confident passing. Two of Willy's incompletions were drops.
"It's just a football field," said Willy when asked if he was nervous. "I really don't listen to the crowd or anything. It's just our team versus their team and basically it's 11 on 11. We've been playing football since we were little."
Asked if he should get the nod for next Saturday's home opener against Rutgers (1-1), Willy said, "If they call on me, I'll be ready to go."
While next week's starter is once again up for debate, at some point UB has to end this scoreless streak.
"We need to improve on offense," Hofher said. "We're 0 for the season right now in terms of scoring."
The Scarlet Knight are no longer pushovers. They nearly knocked off Illinois last week, and humbled Division I-AA Villanova on Saturday, 38-6.