Bulls Hope to Shock Volunteers
The Bulls seek to break Tennessee’s unbeaten record against MAC teams this Saturday. Meg Kinsley /// The Spectrum
No one expects the Bulls to win this Saturday, especially the media in Tennessee.
The Bulls (1-3, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) will challenge Tennessee (2-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
The first two lines in Tuesday's game preview – which ran in The Daily Beacon, Tennessee's student newspaper – read as follows:
"Even for the die-hard Tennessee fans, Saturday's game versus Buffalo doesn't exactly get the blood pumping. In all likelihood, the Volunteers will overwhelm the Bulls and have the contest in hand by the middle of the third quarter."
The article also goes on to say the Bulls "have faired poorly in previous years," and "while coaches and players won't admit it, Buffalo is a tune-up game for the rest of the Vols' October schedule."
The Buffalo Bulls are not an SEC team, they don't compete with the best in the nation, and they don't regularly play in front of more than 100,000 fans.
The Tennessee Volunteers are 7-0 all-time against MAC opponents, they're led by phenomenal quarterback play, and they're searching for a return to BCS glory.
Nobody thinks the Bulls have a shot. Nobody, that is, except the Bulls.
Head coach Jeff Quinn said his players are not intimidated and they aren't changing their pre-game routine. Still, the Bulls are making some modifications in order to be prepared for the 105,000 fans that pack Neyland Stadium every week.
"We're going to pump in crowd noise; we're going to hear ‘Rocky Top' a lot; we're going to cover the [practice] stadium in orange and get our kids locked in," Quinn said.
"If you let your mind drift, it'll be a distraction and it'll break your concentration, and I'm not going to allow that to happen."
One person who recognizes Buffalo's talent is Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley. He's game planning for one player in particular: sophomore linebacker Khalil Mack.
"[Mack] is as good as anybody we play," Dooley said. "The production he's had in the games, he's a train wreck on an offense. We have to make sure he doesn't disrupt the game."
Dooley's words were an enormous compliment for Mack, considering the level of competition Tennessee faces week to week. Tennessee competes with Florida, reigning national champion Auburn, and Alabama, among others in the SEC.
Sophomore running back Branden Oliver, who trained with Mack over the summer, expected Mack to succeed.
"[The attention] doesn't surprise him or me or the coaches," Oliver said. "He was born for this. I always talk to him about how everybody always talks about the bigger teams and the AP polls, and we just feel that we can play with anybody."
Mack leads a Buffalo defense that stepped up big-time last week. The Bulls limited UConn (2-2) to 80 yards rushing on 1.9 yards per rush. Previously, teams considered run defense to be Buffalo's primary weakness.
Buffalo's downfall last game was its offense. The defense gave up 17 points, but that was largely because the offense couldn't keep the ‘D' off the field. Senior quarterback Chazz Anderson threw an interception in the end zone – with Buffalo down 10-3 – on Buffalo's most impressive drive.
That turnover was the game's most controversial moment. The play was flagged as pass interference on UConn, but the referees retracted the flag and said the penalty came "after the interception." The Bulls never recovered.
"It was pass interference and the penalty was a penalty," Quinn said. "I'm still not real happy about that situation, because it certainly took some time to overcome that."
The Bulls will have to continue playing strong defense if they plan on stopping a potent Tennessee offense.
The Vols will be without star wide receiver Justin Hunter for the first time this season, but standout quarterback Tyler Bray still presents a major threat. Bray has thrown for 986 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions so far this year. At 6-foot-6, Bray is able to see over defenses and find open targets.
Tight end Mychal Rivera is one of Bray's favorite receivers. Rivera hauled in five passes for 71 yards and a touchdown in Tennessee's last game, a 33-23 loss at Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC). The Bulls will look to slow Rivera with the size and speed of junior linebacker Jaleel Verser.
The Bulls have been strong in pass defense so far this year, and they'll need to put the clamps on a pass-first Tennessee offense if the Bulls plan on pulling off the upset. The Bulls are four-touchdown underdogs.
"I don't put any team on a pedestal," Oliver said.
On Saturday, Oliver and his teammates seek to prove to themselves, the Volunteers, Las Vegas odds makers, and the Tennessee media that the Bulls are in fact better than they're given credit for.
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