As I was writing the UB Bulls season preview last week, I was thinking they’d be hard pressed to get to .500 this season and 6 wins shouldn’t be too much to ask for in Jeff Quinn’s 3rd season as Head Coach.
After watching the Bulls season opening loss at 6th ranked Georgia, I feel much better about the prospects for the 2012 season and the chances UB can compete for the Mid American Conference East division.
An inexperienced quarterback, a defense that needs to make significant strides and a hard schedule(both non conference and conference) were all factors I took into consideration.
Anticipating a 1-3 non conference record(losses to Georgia, Connecticut and Pittsburgh to go along with a win over FCS member Morgan State), that would mean the Bulls would have to go 5-3 in MAC play to reach the break even point. A tall order since they only won 2 league games last season and none away from UB Stadium. Of course, Pittsburgh lost at home to Youngstown State(FCS) over the weekend so maybe that game with the Panthers is now winnable.
I figured they could lose 3 league games just in October when they travel to defending East champ Ohio(which beat Penn State on Saturday) and to defending West champ Northern Illinois(who lost in the waning moments of their game with Iowa). UB also hosts Toledo which has one of the most explosive offenses in the country.
The way Buffalo played in the first half at Georgia reminded of me how Turner Gill’s club hung with then 2nd ranked Auburn for 2 ½ quarters a few years ago.
I was most impressed with the play of junior quarterback Alex Zordich. The Bulls have not received steady play at that position since Drew Willy graduated but Zordich surely looked the part keeping the Bulls within a touchdown and 2 point conversion of the heavily favored Bulldogs at halftime.
With only 4 starts to his credit(back in his freshman year of 2010), Zordich showed surprising poise, command of the offense, football smarts and leadership. He was accurate(9-14 for 96 yards and a touchdown) and a two way threat(6 carries for 53 yards). UB actually outgained Georgia and its Heisman trophy candidate at quarterback, Aaron Murray, in that first half and held the ball for nearly 19 minutes.
Buffalo put together a pair of very impressive touchdown drives. The first was an 80 yard march downfield right after the Bulldogs put up a 7 on the scoreboard on their very first possession. There were some Branden Oliver runs but the highlight of the drive was a pinpoint TD pass from Zordich to Alex Neutz made while the QB was retreating from the pass rush.
The 2nd TD drive totaled an even more impressive 94 yards with the All MAC running back Oliver ripping off gains for 36 and 17 yards against what should be one of the SEC’s better defenses although the Dawgs were missing 5 players from that unit due to suspensions or injuries. Zordich again displayed accuracy, completing some passes into very tight spots.
The 2nd half was a different story as the offense went cold which left the defense on the field way too much and Georgia put the game away.
It wasn’t all bright spots for the Bulls as ineffective special teams play(a major problem last season) reared its ugly head in the opener. Kicker Patrick Clarke missed an extra point. A breakdown in protection led to a blocked punt off the foot of Tyler Grassman.
Buffalo gave up a 100 yard kick return for a touchdown right after they scored to make it 7-6 and the Bulls gave up a 29 yard punt return too. But UB may have found an answer in their punt return game which was perhaps the least effective unit last season. Freshman Cordero Dixon had a 31 yard return that set up a field goal just before halftime to pull UB within 8 points.
The Bulls probably won’t face as talented a quarterback, the speed at skill positions or the size on the lines they faced in Athens, Georgia on Saturday for the rest of the season. They certainly won’t play in an atmosphere as intimidating for the visitor.
The Bulls home opener is Saturday at 6pm against Morgan State.