Throughout training camp, the University at Buffalo's defensive players took note as some predicted that its new-look aggressive scheme would mystify offenses. But after Saturday's loss to Pittsburgh in the home opener, Bulls watchers are seeing a run defense that looks more confounded than confounding.
Pitt exposed UB's run defense once again in a 54-27 rout, amassing 209 rushing yards, including a sparkling 85-yard touchdown run by true freshman tailback Dion Lewis. Last week, in the win over Texas-El Paso, UTEP tailback Donald Buckram rushed for 108 yards.
"The concern is tackling," UB coach Turner Gill said. "You have to tackle and that's part of the run game. If you can't tackle it's going to be very, very difficult. We'll zero in on the specifics after we watch the tape and see what's going on. The main thing that sticks out is that we didn't tackle very well."
UB's players and coaches were expecting significant growth from the run defense, although they were breaking in two new starters at defensive end. Perhaps the return of senior tackle Dane Robinson, who was suspended for the first two games for a violation of team policy, might make a difference.
But after two games the Bulls rank 91st nationally against the run and have allowed 348 yards.
UTEP and Pitt averaged a combined 6.1 yards a carry. Yet for a while against Pitt, there was a glimmer of hope.
After the Panthers rolled up 262 yards of total offense by halftime, UB allowed just 7 yards in the third quarter.
"I talked to [defensive coordinator Fred Reed] briefly and to the players and told them to settle down," Gill said. "Everybody kind of looked a little panicked and kind of looked like they hadn't done these things in practice. I said, 'Let's get lined up.' It seemed liked we were not getting lined up, therefore our guys were on their heels coming out."
The defense continued to play well in the fourth quarter, until Lewis detonated for the 85-yard touchdown with 4:44 left.
"We just settled down our guys and called some base calls to get lined up and go out and play some football," Gill said. "Get off the blocks and make some tackles."
Central Florida (1-1), the Bulls' opponent Saturday in Orlando, Fla., has struggled running the ball in its first two games. UCF rushed for only 15 yards in a 26-19 loss at Southern Mississippi on Saturday and ranks 107th in the country at 70 yards a game. Perhaps UCF is the right opponent at the right time for UB.
"It's going to be important that we get in the film room and watch and see what happened," UB junior strong safety Davonte Shannon said. "I think our major problem was executing where we're supposed to be and be in our gaps. Most importantly, we had to wrap up and make the tackle. Those are the things we have to work on."