Three weeks ago, the University at Buffalo was mired in a six-game losing streak that threatened to crush the team’s psyche.
But after victories over Miami (Ohio), Western Michigan and Massachusetts, the Bulls’ longest win streak since the team won five straight in 2008, the situation has changed.
UB seeks to finish the season with four consecutive wins for the first time since 1986 at 3 p.m. Friday against Bowling Green (7-4, 5-2 Mid-American Conference) in Columbus, Ohio. The soul-searching began after Northern Illinois demolished the Bulls, 45-3. UB (4-7, 3-4) lost another pair of games against Pittsburgh and Toledo to fall to 1-7 before the current winning streak.
“From the beginning, we took the mentality of one game at a time and after that Northern Illinois game I feel as if we really changed everything,” defensive end Colby Way said. “Everyone really bought into that, ‘one game at a time, we just need to get a win now, just leave it all on the field.’ ”
Way said the Bulls then talked about finishing strong for the seniors, which includes six starters.
“How would you want the underclassmen to play for you when it’s your last year?’ ” Way said. “I think that’s really helped us progress and get these last three wins and hopefully a fourth one this Friday.”
Kent State is a prime example on how a strong finish can work in a team’s favor. The Golden Flashes won five of six to end the 2011 season and are now ranked No. 23 with a 10-1 record and the East Division title.
“It’s more about finishing out this season and getting one more win here and the end of the year,” Way said. “The momentum will definitely carry over but we’re more focused on this last game.”
The Bulls have four players with five sacks or more starting with linebacker Khalil Mack with eight followed by Way (seven), defensive end Steven Means (6.5), and linebacker Lee Skinner (five).
“We’re just all excited when any one of us makes plays," Way said. “It’s just great being out there with those guys, having two guys out there on the field who are phenomenal athletes and phenomenal players like that in our front seven is just a huge help.”
The Bulls’ eight sacks against Massachusetts tied a school record. The last time UB had eight sacks was Nov. 13, 2004 against Central Michigan and the Chippewas’ offensive line coach that day was Jeff Quinn.
Friday’s game will be played in the Columbus Crew Stadium (Major League Soccer) and is considered a home game for Bowling Green.
Michigan and Ohio State renew their bitter rivalry on Saturday in Columbus and Bowling Green scheduled its game the day before with the hope of drawing a larger crowd.
“There’s going to be a lot of people around that area," Quinn said. “There’s going to be a lot of energy in that city and it speaks volumes to our ability to go down there and play in that kind of environment.”
Senior fullback Rashad Jean, a converted defensive lineman, didn’t have a career carry until the UMass game when he moved to tailback because of injuries to Bo Oliver and Devin Campbell. The 6-foot, 246-pound Jean, a former walk-on, rushed for 73 yards on 17 carries.
“All of the sudden here we are in Gillette Stadium and we needed to call upon a guy who was a big physical running back and his 46 yards after contact stood out to me," Quinn said. “He gave us a big, physical presence against an eight-, nine-man box that we didn’t have. He really stepped up and delivered.”
These are good times for No. 1 ranked Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, Quinn’s mentor and friend.
Quinn coached 21 seasons under Kelly at Division II Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and briefly as the offensive coordinator with the Fighting Irish before accepting the job at UB in 2009.
“He’s a great ball coach and I had plenty of time working side by side, 21 years, with coach Kelly," Quinn said. “I’ve seen it for a long time, people may not have seen it, but I saw it day to day. I couldn’t be more proud of he and a lot of his coaches that I worked with at Central Michigan and at Cincinnati.”
Tailbacks Oliver (ankle) and Campbell (back) are questionable for Friday’s game.
“I know both of them want to play so hopefully as time moves along we’ll see both of them get an opportunity to go out and there and contribute," Quinn said.