That ever elusive signature victory, the one that could potentially boost the Jeff Quinn era at the University at Buffalo, nearly came last season against Northern Illinois.
The Bulls rallied from a 31-10 third-quarter deficit and could have sent the game into overtime but Peter Fardon missed an extra point and UB lost, 31-30. The Bulls get another crack at the Huskies (5-1, 2-0 Mid-American Conference) and a chance at a program defining win Saturday at Huskie Stadium.
“Last year it was a heartbreaker to lose to them by a point," UB senior right tackle Gokhan Ozkan said. “We just have to come out and execute against them this week and prepare like we’ve been preparing this whole year. It’s going to be one of those games where we have to take it one play at a time and just beat them every single play."
Beating the Huskies last year would have placed the Bulls at 2-2 in league play, and within striking distance of MAC East Division lead but they finished 1-3 in the final four games to end the season at 3-9 overall and 2-6 in the conference.
“What’s disappointing is that at the end of the game we were ready to tie it up," UB coach Jeff Quinn said. “But I think it gave our kids a lot of confidence to know that you can play [with MAC contenders]. Last year we beat OU [Ohio] who was one of the teams that competed for the MAC championship and getting that close to Northern, who was the other team.’’
A win over one of the MAC’s elite could do wonders for UB’s self-esteem. The Bulls began their run to the 2008 conference championship with back-to-back wins over Ohio and Toledo in 2007. It was the first time UB won consecutive games since becoming a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program in 1999.
Aside from beating eventual MAC East champ Ohio last year, the Bulls haven’t gained any momentum under Quinn, who is now 6-23 in two-plus seasons. But Quinn liked the effort the Bulls gave last weekend against the undefeated Bobcats in their 38-31 loss.
“The way our kids competed for four quarters is always the mentality, that’s how we’re evaluating ourselves and that’s the identity we want to bring," Quinn said. “These guys are cultivating that here in our program: We’re going to be a team that competes for four quarters."
Quinn is quite familiar with Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch.
As an assistant at the University of Cincinnati, he recruited the Chicago area player, a product of Mount Carmel High School whose alumni include Donovan McNabb, Chris Chelios and Antoine Walker.
“I was really advocating for Jordan," said Quinn, a Chicago native. “I loved him. I thought there were a lot of things there that I was seeing. His character, his passion and love for the game. Then when he went to Northern, I thought that was a great fit for him."
Almost perfect. The 6-foot Lynch leads the Huskies, ranks second in the MAC and is eighth nationally with 131.5 rushing yards per game. He is the second-leading rusher in the country among quarterbacks behind Michigan’s Denard Robinson. Lynch ranks seventh in the country, and first in the MAC, in total offense with an average of 340.67 yards per game.
“We have to stop their quarterback," Quinn said. “Jordan Lynch is an outstanding football player."
Bo Oliver (knee) remains day-to-day but Quinn said the junior tailback is doing more in practice than he did last week.
“He’s progressing and as you know sometimes these things take longer than we expect to get him back in there," Quinn said. “After [Monday] it looked a lot better than even Saturday. We were feeling pretty good about where he was at."
The Bulls learned more about their depth at tailback after Devin Campbell, who entered the season fourth on the depth chart, ran for 160 yards and a touchdown against Ohio to become just the second true freshman in the Bulls’ FBS era to rush for 100 yards in a game. Campbell had 30 carries and averaged 5.3 yards a pop. He also had two receptions for 20 yards.
“When you look at guys like Devin Campbell who can come in and step up that’s a great sign to know we’re recruiting the right kinds of guys," Quinn said. “We’re getting the right kind of play and production out of those kids, they’re stepping up – that ‘Next Bull In’ mentality. He’s a true freshman that rushed for 160 yards and totaled 180 in all-purpose yards.’’
Brandon Murie (ankle) should play Saturday.
Buffalo is one of only three teams to have a 100 percent scoring rate in the red zone. The Bulls are 13 of 13 inside the 20 and join Alabama and Oklahoma State as the only teams who are perfect in the red zone.