Bulls Lament Title Season on Eve of Rematch
Junior wide receiver Terrell Jackson (5) and the Bulls will face Ball State Friday night at UB Stadium for the first time since the 2008 MAC Championship game. Alex McCrossen /The Spectrum
Getting to the top is great. The journey provides memories that last a lifetime. But, as the football team can attest, climbing back up the mountain can be more grueling than the initial ascent.
Toiling at the bottom of the Mid-American Conference this season, the Bulls (2-7, 1-4 MAC) have a chance to turn back the clock this week. With Ball State (3-7, 2-4 MAC) visiting Buffalo on Friday night, players that played for the Bulls in 2008 have been able to remember what it was like to play on a winning team.
Senior tight end Kyle Brey was a member of the Bulls when they upset Ball State to capture the program's first-ever MAC Championship. He hasn't been surprised by the drop-off since that season; Brey even expected it.
"I know Ball State has struggled since [the 2008 MAC Championship game] and I know we've struggled too," Brey said. "The MAC is an up-and-down conference. It's the kind of conference where competition is very equal year in and year out. We're getting back on track with where we need to be with [Bulls head] coach [Jeff] Quinn."
The competitive nature of the MAC, as intense as it is, provides no comfort for Quinn as he and his team continue to struggle.
After a win to kick off their conference schedule, the Bulls have now dropped four straight games. On top of this losing streak, Buffalo has one of the worst offenses in college football.
Quinn is trying to keep his players focused on the future while trying to right the ship for the final three games this season.
"We need to move our program forward," Quinn said. "To do that you can't dwell on the past. You have to look forward to [future] opportunities. That's the way I'm going to continue coaching this football team."
The play of true freshman quarterback Alex Zordich has steadily improved weekly since he took over the starting quarterback position. His play last week kept the Bulls in the game against Ohio (7-3, 5-1 MAC). Zordich threw for only 84 yards, and though he wasn't prolific, he helped move the chains and keep the Bulls in the game.
"He's getting better [because] he works at it," Quinn said. "You can see it every day…He's a tremendous competitor. Putting the ball in the right spots is something we haven't had, and he's putting it where it needs to be. He is improving and that's why we're going to stay with him."
A major concern for Buffalo last week was the wide receivers' inability to hold on to the football. Junior wideouts Marcus Rivers and Terrell Jackson dropped several balls that severely cost the Bulls during the game.
Quinn talked to his receivers after the game and during the week about eliminating those mistakes.
"We had three [missed] touchdown passes that could have certainly impacted the outcome of the game [against Ohio]," Quinn said. "Those are things that as a coach, you're disappointed in. I keep telling the team, ‘We have no margin for error.'"
Rivers has been the best receiver this year for the Bulls and has stepped into the number one role for the team. He leads the receiving corps in every statistical category and has a chance to accumulate 1,000 yards this season.
Ball State and Buffalo are virtually in the same position this season. Both teams have struggled to win games, and both teams are starting freshman quarterbacks.
Cardinals freshman quarterback Keith Wenning has been great at times this season but has also had his difficulties. He has thrown for 1,175 yards, 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The Bulls must take advantage of Wenning's inexperience and force the underclassmen into making mistakes on Friday night.
Notching its first win in over a month will go a long way to maintain spirits in the Buffalo locker room, according to Brey.
"We need to get a win and everybody moving in the right direction," Brey said. "I think coach has done an unbelievable job at making sure the message, throughout the season, regardless of circumstance, has been clear and consistent."
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at UB Stadium. The game can be seen on ESPNU.
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