The University at Buffalo can look at the opposing sideline in Saturday’s football game and hope it offers a vision of the Bulls’ near future.
Miami University is in Year Three of coach Chuck Martin’s building project. Years One and Two did not go well. The RedHawks were 2-10 two years ago and 3-9 last season. Year Three – this season – wasn’t looking good, either. Miami started 0-6.
But the RedHawks now have won four straight and bring a newly confident team to UB Stadium for a 1 p.m. game against the Bulls.
UB is struggling in Year Two of Lance Leipold’s building project. The Bulls (2-7) are 11-point underdogs against Miami Ohio.
“Winning these four is huge,” Martin said this week on a Mid-American Conference media call. “If our seniors this week can win at Buffalo, they can double their win total in the last five weeks that they’ve had their whole career. They were 5-36 through the past 3 1-2 years. So every win for us is huge, whether we get to six wins and get bowl eligible or not. The fact we’ve gone a month and not lost a football game at Miami is a pretty big deal.”
Martin has turned the RedHawks around by bringing in young talent that has started to produce. Miami has 10 starters who are freshmen, sophomores or redshirt freshmen brought into the program in the past three years.
UB is young too. Its first-teamers average just 14 career starts, the exact same as Miami’s first string. UB has eight senior starters, Miami has six. Fifteen UB second-teamers are in just their second year in the program (or less). Miami has 11 second-teamers with two or fewer years in the program.
The young defense has aided Miami’s revival. The RedHawks rank first in the MAC in yards allowed (344 a game) and first against the run (124 a game). They’re second in the MAC in sacks (with 23).
“We’ve got a lot of young guys on that defense,” Martin said. “Early in the year when we were 0-6, I was trying to tell everybody we’re way better, we just haven’t got the results yet. We just needed to keep playing. The defense was playing super-hard early in the year and playing fast and playing aggressive and playing together. We just weren’t playing very smart. Now we’re playing a lot smarter. . . . The kids are figuring out you can’t just go play hard. Our penalties are way down. Our turnovers are down.”
UB ranks seventh in the MAC in rushing at 162 yards a game and is coming off a decent offensive showing in last week’s loss at Ohio. The Bulls rushed for 116 yards against the best run defense in the MAC and passed for 308 yards.
UB knows it needs to somehow achieve balance with the run game. The receiving corps and passing game is not explosive enough to carry the offense on its own.
“I want to be better at the point of attack.” Leipold said. “We saw flashes of a running game against Akron that was very productive. And we took a step back against a good front last week.”
UB also will try to avoid early mistakes that plagued it in almost every game this season. The Bulls have been outscored in the first quarter, 68-10.
“You look at the unfortunate theme of giving up big plays and turnovers, things that are self-inflicted,” Leipold said. “We’re working on getting better at the little things. Hopefully, those lead to bigger things as we move forward.”