Buffalo likes to view itself as a great football town, but really it’s a wonderful NFL town with an undying allegiance to the Bills. It’s understandable. The Bills have been around since 1960, and they’re our connection to the big time. Allow me to draw a simple comparison to what’s happening at the University at Buffalo.
UB was similar to the Kansas City Chiefs before Tuesday night’s game against Ohio University. The Chiefs remained the only undefeated NFL team after beating the Bills for their ninth straight victory the other day. Great record? Absolutely. Great team? Well, that remains in the hands of the jury.
Kansas City’s record is irrefutable, but anyone who watched the game Sunday and saw two plays determine the outcome should take pause. Dallas (5-4) is the only team the Chiefs have beaten that currently has a winning record. It’s tough to buy into the Chiefs until they beat a quality opponent, such as Denver. It’s a matter of perception.
And that’s UB’s stiffest opponent.
The Bulls’ six-game winning streak before Tuesday was grounds for optimism, but the question lingered: Who did they beat? Non-league victories came over winless Connecticut and BCS Stony Brook. Their four conference wins came against Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, UMass and Kent State, which are 3-18 in the conference.
UB couldn’t be criticized for its schedule — or for outscoring their conference opponents, 148-39, along the way – but it was difficult to take them seriously after they dominated cupcakes. They needed to beat a team like Ohio, which was 3-1 in the conference and 6-2 overall, to show they were, in fact, for real.
The Bulls validated their record with a 30-3 victory Tuesday night, running their winning streak to seven games and moving closer to a bowl bid.
If you were reluctant to join them before the game, perhaps you’ll hop aboard now. UB is gaining confidence and getting better by the game with Toledo waiting next week.
Forget the score. The Ohio game should prepare them for bumpy roads ahead. The Bobcats were a worthy opponent, a first for UB since a five-overtime win over Stony Brook that suggested they were headed for trouble. The Bulls’ answered with their longest winning streak since making the leap to Division I-A.
Ohio beat Penn State last season, so it wasn’t as if the Bobcats were overwhelmed by visiting UB Stadium and playing before a national television audience on ESPN2.
Ohio showed up ready to play. It allowed only one first down in the first quarter, reminding UB that it wasn’t some tomato can at the bottom of the conference.
The Bulls responded as their fans hoped they would, even if they weren’t entire sure they could, after a conference team engaged them in a street fight. Their defense shut down a team that had scored 34 points in five of its previous six games. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton, called for a phantom safety in the third quarter, was under duress all game.
UB sleeps peacefully knowing it has a heavyweight in Khalil Mack, who is one of the best linebackers in the country. He was in his usual form Tuesday. He was a general nuisance while covering more territory than AT&T. He disturbed whatever peace Ohio enjoyed early in the game.
Mack has a way of making his teammates feel a little tougher while reminding opponents that he’s the toughest kid on the block.
It was no surprise that he punched a ball free and recovered a fumble that led to UB’s first touchdown. The Bulls’ offensive line and running back Branden Oliver bullied their way down the field for their first score.
Oliver and Mack often tease one another about which is faster, but the running back showed he’s not one to be pushed around, either. Oliver had half of Ohio — meaning the state, not just the team — on his back during a 23-yard run that pushed UB inside the 5. Two plays later, he punched it into the end zone.
It was all UB needed to assume control in all areas. The Bulls’ defense was superb again while holding the Bobcats to 233 total yards. Oliver had a career-high 249 yards rushing. UB limited Tettleton, who had thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the previous two games, to 126 yards Tuesday. They continued to withstand every challenge, regardless of the opponent.
How good are they?
We’ll find out more next week when they visit Toledo, which is 4-1 in the conference (6-3 overall) and has one of the nation’s leading rushers in Lockport native David Fluellen. The Bulls play winless Miami the following week and finish at home against Bowling Green, which is 4-1 in the MAC, too.
OK, so maybe they’re not the Chiefs. After all, Kansas City still hasn’t played anybody.