For the first two weeks of the football season, UB took a place on the menu at a feast for the upper crust. Second-ranked Ohio State got its full of Bull, although the meal proved a little chewy. Not so at No. 23 Baylor, where the Buffalo meat just fell off the bone.
Today it’s UB’s turn to sit down and satisfy appetites presumably heightened by the indignity of last week’s 70-13 score. Stony Brook is the main course and UB, still six wins from bowl eligibility with 10 to play, had best clean its plate. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m. at UB Stadium with the pregame concert featuring Blues Traveler at 1:30.
Two weeks of results suggest FBS programs cannot take an FCS matchup for granted. Eastern Washington knocked off No. 25 Oregon State in their opener. Towson ambushed UConn. All told, eight lower-division programs knocked off FBS teams in the first week alone.
But this game doesn’t carry many red flags. UB beat the Seawolves handily two years ago. Stony Brook suffered heavy graduation losses from the team that last season won 10 games and made the second round of the FCS playoffs. An influx of new talent precipitated an offensive style adjustment, with head coach Chuck Priore abandoning a 90-10 run-to-pass attack for closer to a 60-40 mix.
Stony Brook’s transitional phase further favors a UB team awash in upperclassmen fueled by urgency. The Bulls have a projected first-round NFL pick in linebacker Khalil Mack, and other potential pros. Yet for all their individual accomplishments their legacy will be filed under Unfinished Business unless bowl eligibility and/or a Mid-American Conference title is attained.
“Looking at the schedule we knew coming into this season that both Ohio State and Baylor were two of the top football programs in the country,” Bulls coach Jeff Quinn said. “We learned a lot over the last two weeks. We know who we are. We certainly look forward to the challenge our leadership has in terms of responding.”
All phases of UB’s game are rife for improvement, but two areas loom large: the running attack and the pass defense. The Bulls got nothing going on the ground in either start and Branden Oliver, closing in on the school record for career rush yards, is averaging just 2.7 a carry. Meanwhile, an experienced secondary expected to lend stability has been lit up like the Olympic torch. Ohio State struck for three passing TDs, including a 47-yarder. Baylor threw for 452 yards and scores covering 61, 83 and 53 yards.
“I can’t express to you how excited we are to go out and make some plays in front of our home crowd and play at UB Stadium again. It’s been a long time,” cornerback Najja Johnson said. “So we’re going out and looking forward to earning a victory and making a number of plays and getting our secondary recognized.”
Stony Brook’s Priore didn’t adjust his offense with today in mind but an enhanced passing game has the ability to keep UB’s defense honest.
“I think we’ve got a core nucleus of receivers that are very talented, one who did not play because of an ankle sprain who should be back this week in Jahari Level and I think we have a tight end who can certainly add a dimension to that part of it,” Priore said during this week’s Colonial Athletic Association coaches’ conference call. “I think we have a quarterback that’s mobile, who moves, who can do things with his feet, step up in the pocket and create things.”
He also knows the size of the challenge. UB scored on the first play from scrimmage in winning the 2011 meeting, 35-7.
“In looking at Buffalo, I know their scores have been lopsided but they’ve played two Top 20 teams in the country and they’re a talented team physically,” Priore said. “We need to bring our ‘A’ game. We need to execute, we need to control the ball. We’re going to need to get great games out of our best players.”
A game at UB Stadium almost seems like a luxury for the Bulls. They closed last season with two road games. They opened this season with another pair. They’re eager to taste a little home cooking and take the first step on the road to postseason validation.
“Absolutely, that’s the most important thing, trying to put a ‘W’ on the board,” quarterback Joe Licata said. “I’ve never been so excited to come home and play in front of these fans because we had a rough couple two weeks.”