The University at Buffalo football team is a six-point favorite in Saturday's game against Rutgers, but that isn’t important to the Bulls.
Neither is the fact that Rutgers has given up an average of 53.5 points in its last two games: 52 to perennial power Ohio State and 55 to Big 12-doormat-turned-upstart Kansas.
What matters to the Bulls is that they aim for a 4-0 record – the first time since 1981, when UB was a Division III program. They’re also concentrating on what they need to correct as they prepare to face the Scarlet Knights (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) at noon Saturday at HighPoint.com Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.
“Maybe it’s not so much Rutgers, as Kansas found itself a little bit of a groove the last couple weeks, and Ohio State’s a top-four program in the country,” UB coach Lance Leipold said Tuesday of the Scarlet Knights. “Looking at the body of work and all that, we know that they’re going to be ready to go. This is going to be a game that they want to get themselves back in stride as they get closer to their conference season on a full-time basis. But, most importantly, we have to work on what we have to get better at.”
The Bulls are focusing on creating more history in the program’s 21st season as an FBS program.
“It feels amazing,” said K.J. Osborn, who had 188 yards and three touchdowns on seven catches in a 35-28 win Saturday against Eastern Michigan. “All the hard work we’ve been putting in, all through the offseason with Coach Lew (strength and conditioning coach Lewis Caralla), it’s starting to manifest.”
UB’s record is perfect on paper, but it hasn’t come without a few stumbles.
Eastern Michigan stopped Jaret Patterson on fourth-and-1 at the Eastern Michigan 20 with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter, then Emmanuel Reed fumbled the ball on second-and-2 at the Eastern Michigan 16 less than two minutes later.
Both drives could have extended UB's 35-21 lead. Instead, Eastern Michigan ended a 14-play drive after the fumble recovery to cut UB's lead to 35-28 with 42 seconds left.
“We left a lot of things on the field Saturday," Leipold said. "I’m very happy with the win, but we missed a couple opportunities in the fourth quarter to put the game away offensively, some missed opportunities defensively, and we didn’t tackle as well as we needed to. Rutgers has a great running back (Raheem Blackshear), and we’re going to have to tackle better. We’re going to have our hands full, defensively.”
There have been more than a few bright spots for the Bulls, too. The offensive line has yet to give up a sack, quarterback Tyree Jackson leads all MAC passers at 268 yards per game and Osborn leads the conference with five touchdowns.
UB is tied with Eastern Michigan for the MAC’s No. 1 red-zone defense at 57.1 percent (opponents are 4-for-7 on red-zone scoring chances inside the Bulls’ 20-yard-line), and defensive end Chuck Harris leads the conference with 1.33 sacks per game.
Still, given Rutgers’ struggles, one would think the Scarlet Knights are ripe for another picking, especially against the upstart Bulls.
“It’s a Big Ten university, it’s a team that had a convincing win in Week 1 (35-7 against Texas State),” Leipold said. “Year Three of Chris Ash, and he’s building a program. When you go through growing pains, there’s ups and downs. They’re going to be back at home and they played well at home. It’s hard to get into comparatives. But people like to do it anyways."