A Chance for Revenge
Bulls take on Huskies in homecoming game
The Bulls look to avenge their previous two losses to UConn this Saturday at homecoming. Alexa Strudler /// The Spectrum
Much was made last week of Ball State's continued disdain for Buffalo since the 2008 Bulls defeated the Cardinals in the Mid-American Conference championship. Ball State got its revenge with an emotional 28-25 victory on Saturday. This week, on homecoming weekend, the Bulls look to enact revenge against their own rival: Connecticut.
Only five players remain from the 2008 Bulls team that lost in the International Bowl, but the school's dislike for UConn remains to this day. It's been nearly three years; the memory of that 38-20 loss still sits in Buffalo's stomach.
A year ago, the Bulls faced the Huskies in a week three showdown of two 1-2 teams. The Bulls dropped that contest 45-21. This year, the records are the same, but the Bulls claim they're different.
"If you look at all the things from a year ago at this time, we're a better football team," said head coach Jeff Quinn. "We know we have the capability of [winning], and now what we need to do is keep our mindset locked in for four quarters and play with superior effort to our opposition."
The Bulls did not play four quarters of football last week. Buffalo jumped out to a 7-0 lead against Ball State, but the Bulls didn't achieve a first down on their next seven possessions. Buffalo went into the locker room at halftime trailing 21-7.
That's when the Bulls showed their resiliency. Sophomore running back Branden Oliver, who finished with 118 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, led the Bulls to three straight touchdowns.
Last year against UConn, Oliver carried the ball 20 times for just 29 yards.
Quinn said the team had a fired-up discussion at half time and the Bulls responded. He added that he didn't think the team would've been able to mount the comeback a year ago – pulling off 18 points and taking the lead on the road.
"As you saw, once we got started there was no looking back," said sophomore wide receiver Alex Neutz. "After we got in the locker room at half time and coach Quinn fired us up, we realized that we are a different team. We're better than this. We need to play better than this. When we play [like we did in the second half], no team in the country can stop us."
Buffalo had a 25-21 advantage. The Bulls would win if the defense could step up and make a big stop.
Unfortunately for Buffalo, the defense couldn't seal the victory. Ball State pulled off a prolific six-minute drive – which included two backbreaking fourth-down conversions – capped by a four-yard touchdown pass.
"Our kids did not make excuses," Quinn said. "They know that we let one slip through our fingers. I tell them all the time, ‘I don't want a bunch of thin-skinned people around me.'"
Quinn said this week presents the ideal chance for his team to bounce back and prove they're different this year, as the squad takes on a powerful Big East opponent that has had Buffalo's number the past few years.
One thing that's different this year is Buffalo's play under center. Senior quarterback Chazz Anderson threw for 149 yards and a touchdown on 13-23 passing last week. He also ran for 59 yards and a touchdown.
Anderson and Oliver have combined to give the Bulls a newfound balance on offense.
"With Chazz, the line has more confidence, the receivers have more confidence, the running backs have more confidence," Neutz said. "With our more balanced offense, it allows us to expand our playbook. With [Oliver] being able to run downhill and get outside, he's a two-way player. And he can catch the ball out of the backfield, so he's really a triple threat. That opens up our passing game with the play action plays, and it allows us to expand the field a lot better."
It's no secret that the Bulls will need to improve their run defense if they plan on defeating the Huskies. UConn's primary star is running back Lyle McCombs, who has gone off for 327 yards and four touchdowns so far this year.
Opponents have rushed for an average of 194.7 yards per game on the Bulls this season.
Quinn said the team needs to be more disciplined, and the players need to tackle better when they do wind up in the right position.
"We need to stop people from running the ball," Quinn said. "I know [we're] not pleased with our run defense right now."
Quinn said the Bulls tried to mimic UConn's playing style this offseason, as Buffalo tried to bulk up and get stronger. He said the Huskies are a typical oversized, powerful Big East team.
The Bulls will find out this weekend if they truly are a different team this year.
"I think it's going to be a good test for us to see where we stand as a program, to see if we're ready to take the next step," Neutz said.
The Bulls hung tough with UConn last year, as the teams were evenly matched in yardage; the Bulls put up 368 yards to Connecticut's 399. The primary difference was the turnover battle, as the Bulls coughed up the ball four times, while UConn only tossed one interception.
Quinn stressed that the Bulls are better this year specifically in the turnover category.
With the team's differences in 2011, Quinn expects better effort and ultimately a win this weekend.
"I don't want a football team that doesn't play inspired football," Quinn said. "It's too great of a game and we work too doggone hard. We know we can do it. We just need to do it from play one to the last play."
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