The good news for the University at Buffalo football team is Northern Illinois, the Bulls’ opponent on Saturday, is enduring its worst season in a decade.
The bad news for UB is Northern Illinois is way overdue for a “get-healthy” performance, and the Bulls look like just the opponent to make it happen.
The Huskies have appeared in six straight Mid-American Conference title games But they stand 1-6, their worst start since a 1-8 opening to the 2007 season. UB is 1-5 and is 0-8 all-time as a MAC school against the Huskies.
Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game will be UB’s first visit to DeKalb, Ill., since 2012.
“The record is not what they’re used to and not where they’ve been, but they’ve had two overtime losses . . . let alone a very challenging schedule and they’ve battled through injuries,” said UB coach Lance Leipold.
Northern Illinois’ opponents are a combined 36-10. UB’s opponents are 20-19.
Northern Illinois lost a three-overtime game Saturday to Central Michigan, 34-28. The Huskies’ season opened with a three-OT loss at Wyoming. Other losses have come against 7-0 Western Michigan, 6-1 South Florida, 5-1 San Diego State and 5-1 Western Illinois (a lower-division foe).
Northern Illinois also lost starting quarterback Drew Hare to a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the season. Replacement Anthony Maddie is not as good as Hare. But Maddie has been productive. He’s averaging 207 passing yards and 83 rushing yards a game. And the Huskies have averaged 27 ppg (not counting overitmes) the past four games.
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UB ranks 128th – last in the nation – in rushing yards allowed, at 285 a game. The Bulls gave up 381 rushing yards in Saturday’s 31-21 loss to Ball State.
Leipold said UB must find a way to eliminate the big gainers. Ball State gained 237 yards and scored three touchdowns in a stretch of just 12 plays in the third quarter.
“It was a big major breakdown in a short period of time,” Leipold said. “From there you could slice it up and say we’re playing some decent defense. . . . It’s discipline, it’s reaction, it’s a little bit of everything. We have go get better.”
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Quarterback Tyree Jackson handled the blitz remarkably well against Ball State. The Cardinals blitzed on 23 called pass plays, according to News statistics.
Jackson was 13 of 19 for 143 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against the blitz. He was sacked once and scrambled three times.
It was the most any team has blitzed UB this season. UB offensive tackles Roubbens Joseph and David Goldsby held up well in pass protection, as did running backs Jordan Johnson and Johnathan Hawkins.
“One thing we’ve done a good job of is protecting our quarterback,” Leipold said.
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It appears Northern Illinois will be without one of its star players, cornerback Shawun Lurry. He suffered a concussion Saturday and is doubtful for UB. The Huskies lost their other starting corner, Albert Smalls, to injury early in the year. True freshman Daniel Isom likely will make his third start in the last four games.
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If not for some self-inflicted wounds in a three-minute stretch of the second quarter, UB might have discouraged Ball State from running the ball in the second half. A 50-yard return of a fumble by Jarrett Franklin to the Ball State 5 in the second quarter was wiped out by an illegal block by Chris Ford. Adam Mitcheson missed a 21-yard field goal. Reverse those two plays and UB could have had a 24-7 halftime lead.
“We just gotta stay more disciplined,” said UB receiver Malcolm Robinson. “We did shoot ourselves in the foot on that, especially because we didn’t score after the recovery.”