The University at Buffalo's defense sprang a couple of leaks and problems with the run defense still need to be addressed.
But defense is also about not allowing chunks of yards and touchdowns, so in that regard, the Bulls' defense made some strides in its 23-17 victory over Texas-El Paso on Saturday.
UTEP ranked 31st in the country last season in total offense while averaging 406.5 yards per game. The Miners also averaged nearly 33 points a game. On Saturday, the Bulls held the Miners to 372 yards.
UTEP also lives off the big play and Bulls defensive coordinator Fred Reed had that in mind when he opened the game playing a nickel defense and Cover 2. The Miners' longest play from scrimmage was a 32-yard reception by Kris Adams, who finished with nine catches for 98 yards.
"We made some adjustments but they still did some things in the running game," UB coach Turner Gill said. "Hopefully we can get that ironed out but the biggest thing is we didn't want to give up any big plays. They are going to hit a few here and there but we didn't want to give up five or six big plays."
The defense was led by junior linebacker Justin Winters with eight tackles. Corners Josh Thomas and Sherrod Lott finished with seven tackles each.
UB first-half rushing totals didn't look too promising -- 16 carries for 39 yards -- but the Bulls responded in the second half when they gained 111 yards on 26 attempts.
Junior tailback Brandon Thermilus rushed 25 times for 79 yards and a touchdown, while senior tailback Mario Henry rushed 11 times for 55 yards and a score.
"For us to be successful, we have to be able to run the ball," Henry said. "I think I did all right, I thought I could have done a little more."
Thermilus' first half was rather forgettable: 11 carries for 10 yards.
"They came out eight in the box and we had to adjust to that," he said.
UTEP kept its linebackers close to the line of scrimmage, which made sense because sophomore Zach Maynard was largely unproven as a passer.
The Miners knew exactly what Thermilus was capable of because he carried the ball for 102 yards and two TDs in the 2008 season opener. But UB adjusted on the offensive line, double teaming when necessary.
"In the second half," Thermilus said, "it was all good."
UTEP can point to its 12 penalties for 101 yards as the reason for losing, but UB wasn't far behind: 10 for 80 yards. . . . This was the second time the two teams have met, with Buffalo notching a 42-17 win at UB Stadium to open the season last year. . . . The trip to El Paso was the fifth time the Bulls have played a game west of the Mississippi River, the others being trips to Iowa (2003), Iowa State (1968), Nevada (2003) and Missouri (2008). . . . It was the first collegiate starts for sophomores Maynard and Matt Ostrowski, as well as seniors Robert Colpoys, Matt Bacoulis and Kevin Johnson. . . . The Bulls' second-quarter safety was the first for UB since Sept. 27, 2008 when Tom Drewes blocked a Central Michigan punt out of the end zone. . . . The second-quarter touchdown by Mario Henry was just the second of his career, and his first since the 2007 season at Temple. . . . Justin Winters' sack in the second quarter was the third of his career and the first for the Bulls this season. . . . Sophomore Gordon DuBois recorded the first tackle for loss of his career in the second quarter. . . . Naaman Roosevelt's touchdown on a 42-yard screen pass was the 20th TD reception of his career, breaking the career mark that he previously held with Chris D'Amico (1980-84) and Jamie Gasparre (1996-97). . . . Fullback Lawrence Rolle had his first career catch in the third quarter and it covered 23 yards.