Inconsistent 2011 for Football: Recapping Disappointment
Branden Oliver was the main spotlight in a 2011 football season filled with disappointments. Meg Kinsley /// The Spectrum
Head coach Jeff Quinn's second season was one of youth, turmoil, injuries and inconsistency, but Buffalo fans can collectively breathe in deep and be thankful for one thing:
Quinn has gone 5-19 so far at UB.
"Grading myself off wins and losses, [I haven't done] too well," Quinn said. "But building the program on the right foundation, I think you're exactly where you want to be. No one cares about this program more than myself. A championship culture will take place at the University at Buffalo. That's what people deserve and that's what I came here to do."
It was a long, tough year for the football team, which finished 3-9 (2-6 Mid-American Conference). However, while the Bulls went through copious trials, they also discovered budding stars (Branden Oliver, Khalil Mack) and put together some thrilling wins (Ohio, Akron).
In the midst of mayhem, one player stood out: Oliver. Quinn was criticized for starting the undersized tailback last season, but the sophomore came out this year with newfound fervor following a passionate summer workout regimen. He was a record-breaking machine, setting all-time school marks for rushing attempts (306), rushing yards (1,395), all-purpose yards (1,760), and 100-yard rushing games in a season (eight).
Oliver's records in rushing yards and all-purpose yards break marks set in 2008 by James Starks – the starting running back of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
"Next year we're going to break even more records," Oliver said. "I'm going to work with the O-line and we're going to pull everyone along."
The receivers weren't quite as successful. They came into this year with the most expectations, as sophomore Alex Neutz and seniors Terrell Jackson, Marcus Rivers, and Ed Young were expected to fuel one of the best receiving cores in the MAC.
Jackson fell in week seven at Temple. He was a preseason all-MAC selection at kick returner, but he was completely rattled on a return against the Owls. He remained motionless on the field for more than 15 minutes. Jackson was carried off on a stretcher and his career was over. Neutz went down just two weeks later, as he was hit on a route across the middle and a wrist injury ended his year.
Rivers and Young were sporadic, to say the least. Rivers led the team in receptions with 60, but he only caught two touchdowns. Young came on late in the season after some early-season drops, and he finished with 27 catches for 357 yards and a pair of touchdowns – including an electrifying, game-changing 90-yarder in the Bulls' win over MAC East champ Ohio.
"I wouldn't say [the receivers were] a complete disappointment, but we would've liked to see more production and consistency," Quinn said.
Those receivers' play largely reflected the performance of senior quarterback Chazz Anderson, who transferred from Cincinnati and was eligible to play immediately because he had already graduated. Like the rest of his team, Anderson had his ups and downs. He showed flashes of brilliance – against Northern Illinois, he threw for 404 yards and three touchdowns on 35-of-53 passing. At other times, Anderson struggled as much as anyone on the field – against Temple, he only completed 9-of-26 passes for 84 yards and an interception.
The veteran also gave the younger quarterbacks – like sophomore Alex Zordich, junior Jerry Davis, and freshman Joe Licata – another year to learn, while Davis and Licata were able to redshirt. Anderson finished with 2,454 yards (an average of 204.5 per game), 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 309 yards and seven scores.
The offense averaged 22.2 points per game, a drastic increase from the 14.2 average in 2010.
The Bulls were two completely contrasting teams at home and on the road. They went 0-6 on the road, and they were thoroughly outclassed in three of those games. Buffalo showed up to play at UB Stadium, putting up a good fight in every home game and finishing 3-3.
Though freshman kicker Patrick Clarke stepped in at the end of the season and did brilliant, the Bulls had difficulty in the kicking game, as senior punter Peter Fardon started the year as kicker and missed two extra points (including one in the final seconds that would have tied the game in a 31-30 loss to MAC West champ Northern Illinois) and went 5-for-10 on field goals. Clarke went 6-for-6.
On the defensive front, sophomore linebacker Khalil Mack was the star of a D that didn't impress much this year, surrendering an average of 29.4 points per game. Former walk-on sophomore defensive back Najja Johnson also stepped up in the secondary.
The Bulls sought to continue their striking home play and send their seniors out with a win over Bowling Green on a windy Black Friday, but their tumultuous season ended appropriately with a 42-28 loss.
"I think games like this, late in the year, when two teams that maybe haven't had the seasons they hoped for – it's a matter of who shows up and really wants to play," said Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson.
The game marked the last time 21 seniors will suit up for the Bulls. Among those players are Anderson, Rivers, and safety Josh Copeland. Those three – and the rest of the seniors – have provided a plethora of highlights over their careers, and they will undoubtedly be missed.
"I just wanted to win," Oliver said. "I just wanted to get the seniors a win."
Despite a disappointing 2011 campaign, Buffalo looks forward to applying lessons learned this year in what the Bulls hope will be a more prosperous 2012.
"We have a lot of guys coming back who had a lot of responsibility this year," Quinn said. "There will be no quit, no give up. It's going to be a long offseason."
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