Zach Maynard's debut was solid. Actually, Maynard was better than solid. But players of his caliber are generally hard on themselves.
Maynard wasn't asked to give himself a letter grade after the University at Buffalo's 23-17 win Saturday night at Texas-El Paso, but he offered one anyway.
"C-plus," said Maynard, UB's sophomore quarterback from Greensboro, N.C. "It was the first game and I had a lot of bad reads. It was about a C-plus."
Whatever the grade, the Bulls emerged from their season opener with a feeling that there is life after Drew Willy. Building on his performance in training camp, Maynard showed poise and mobility, leading the Bulls on three scoring drives.
"In his first collegiate game he did a great job for us," junior tailback Brandon Thermilus said. "He had the command of the huddle and everything."
Maynard (12 for 19, 159 yards and one touchdown), in his first start since being named the No. 1 quarterback last spring, didn't commit any turnovers against UTEP's avant-garde 3-3-5 defense. His best moment came when he was greeted with a heated pass rush and dumped off a screen pass to senior wideout Naaman Roosevelt, who took it 42 yards for a touchdown.
"It felt good to have that first touchdown under my belt," Maynard said.
The Bulls (1-0) couldn't have asked for more from Maynard. He led scoring drives of 60, 25 and 42 yards, including a 2-yard TD run by Thermilus and a 6-yard TD run by senior tailback Mario Henry. He also rushed five times for 19 yards.
"They've been preparing me for so long against that defense," Maynard said. "We've been going against that defense for two weeks now so it came to me easy."
Maynard's signature play, the one that will leave Bulls fans excited, was the touchdown throw to Roosevelt. A UTEP defensive tackle broke through and a linebacker was sent on a blitz. Both had their fingertips on Maynard, who whistled a pass to Roosevelt on a screen. Roosevelt did the rest. He bounced his way through the UTEP secondary like a lotteryball, then split the double team and burst into the end zone.
If Maynard had waited a half second more he would have experienced another novelty: his first sack.
"He makes the good throw and hit him on time," UB coach Turner Gill said. "Naaman makes two or three people miss but that's what you want -- get the ball to your playmaker and let him make some plays."
Maynard's next test is the Bulls' home opener at UB Stadium against Pittsburgh (1-0), whose defense was dominant in beating Youngstown State, 38-3, on Saturday.
"I'm proud of Zach Maynard, he played a very good football game," Gill said. "He's going to get better and better, too, as time goes along. I liked what I saw out of him, I liked his composure. I liked the plays he had to make as far as first downs."
>UB 23, UTEP 17 / Breaking down the game
Game analysis: Nothing like a UB game that goes to the wire to start the college football season. Bulls got solid play from quarterback Zach Maynard and tailbacks Brandon Thermilus and Mario Henry but costly Texas-El Paso penalties were the difference as the Bulls two-stepped out of UTEP with a 23-17 season-opening 'W.'
How UB won: It's basically how they didn't lose. UTEP appeared to tie with 14.3 seconds left on a 20-yard TD from Trevor Vittatoe to James Thomas. Wait a minute. Flags. Two against UTEP. One for holding and one for unsportsmanlike conduct. Pushed to the UB 42, Vittatoe threw two incomplete passes to end it. Just another night at the office for UB.
Turning Point: Penalties killed UTEP all night. A false-start penalty left them third and 15 from the UB 26. It was a promising drive but instead of a touchdown, the Miners were forced to kick a 31-yard field goal that cut UB's lead to 23-17 with 3:39 left. The Bulls down shifted the offense to milk the clock, taking off just enough time to hold off a UTEP comeback.
Player of the game: Bulls have several new faces but let's keep it old school with senior wideout Naaman Roosevelt, five catches for 91 yards including a backbreaking 42-yard TD to open the third quarter. If that play looked familiar, it was the same one Roosevelt scored on last year against the Miners.
Stat of the game: UTEP was whistled for 12 penalties for 101 yards. Take away half of them and the Miners probably win.
What the win means: Bulls are off to a 1-0 start for the third time in Turner Gill's four seasons at the school.
He said it: "Aw man!" Sherrod Lott's reaction just before Vittatoe's touchdown was wiped away by penalties.
In the house: 35,214 fans in the Sun Bowl were mostly booing after this one was over.
Up next for Bulls: UB will see if it can carry the momentum into Saturday's home opener at noon against Pittsburgh from the Big East.
-- Rodney McKissic