Of Khalil Mack’s litany of tackles on Saturday in the University at Buffalo’s 20-6 loss to Pittsburgh, one displayed his eye-catching prowess above all others.
Pitt’s Tino Sunseri tossed a screen pass to Rushel Shell who would have scored had the junior linebacker not tracked him down from behind like a piranha in pursuit of a minnow some 41 yards later. What was even more striking - and the reason why Mack is one of the nation’s top linebackers - is that he came from the opposite end of the field to make the play.
“It’s just something that Coach [Lou] Tepper just teaches us to do game in and game out,’’ said Mack, who finished with a game-high 12 tackles.
Schemes help, but no one can teach that kind of athleticism.
“He came from the backside, I don’t know how far? Fifty yards? Forty yards?’’ UB coach Jeff Quinn said. “This man and this team wants to win, and they want to get it right. Those are great examples of the passion and determination that our kids have and Khalil is the leader of our team. We just keep leaning on him.’’
Quinn likes to refer to his defense as multiple and that certainly was the case against Pitt. The Bulls shifted smoothly from their base 3-4, to 4-3 and 3-3 fronts as Mack and senior Steven Means (six tackles, one sack) shifted between outside linebacker and defensive end.
“It’s something that we’ve been doing but I can’t say that I’ve been playing defensive end but it’s kind of part of our scheme,’’ Mack said. “Moving around ... try and confuse them.’’
Said Quinn: “You don’t want him lined up in the same location. You want to move him around and give him the opportunity to match up against [either] the running back, the tight end or tackle, or a guard. He has that capability.’’
The Bulls played without offensive playmakers Bo Oliver (knee) and Alex Neutz (ribs) but their backups filled in nicely.
True freshman tailback Devin Campbell rushed for 104 yards on 19 carries at tailback, while sophomore wideout John Dunmore had a personal best seven receptions for 72 yards.
“I always have the Next Bull In mentality so every week I try preparing as if I’m going to start,’’ said Dunmore, a native to Syracuse.
Said UB quarterback Alex Neutz: “I was real proud of him. John did a good and a lot of the guys on the team [are proud of him], too. Neutz was hurt and we needed somebody to step up and John did a good job of that.’’
Quinn said Campbell, “performed as well as any true freshman I’ve coached at the running back position.’’ The Youngstown, Ohio native rushed for 160 yards in his first start as a collegian against Ohio two weeks ago.
Both Oliver, who has missed the last four games, and Neutz were in uniform on the sidelines. Neutz was injured during last week’s game at Northern Illinois and was available Saturday if needed.
“We knew he could have ran down the field and made some catches, but we weren’t sure if it was the best thing for him to get out there and take a shot because we know we have five key and critical games coming up in the MAC,’’ Quinn said.
Quinn said he hopes to have Oliver back for next Saturday’s game against Toledo. Starting free safety Whiney Sherry, who injured his shoulder last week in practice, did not play.
UB had a chance to cut Pitt’s lead to 20-9 near the end of the third quarter, but botched a Patrick Clarke field-goal attempt. The snap was high and although holder Tony Daniel gathered the ball and set it, Clarke didn’t attempt the kick. Daniel tried a pass intended for Matt Weiser that fell incomplete. It was rainy and windy for the entire game so weather conditions were probably a factor on the snap.
“It was a little bit off is what Tony told me,’’ Quinn said. “By the time he set it on the ground he was ready to go but Pat said the timing was way off. At point, everything was blocked for a sustained period of time and we weren’t able to get our wing outlets to get out.”
Zordich on his interception when led to the Panthers first touchdown in the second quarter and a 13-0 lead: “The safety did a good job on the play, really. I shouldn’t have thrown it, should have seen him and it’s just unfortunate they had the coverage to make it look like it was an easy read and I bit on it and cost my team some points. It’s frustrating.’’