Bulls have put 'D' in dominance last three weeks
Buffalo's defense is the key to its title dreams
Published: Saturday, October 12, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 13, 2013 11:10
The Bulls’ defense had valid reason to be discouraged after Week Three.
In consecutive weeks, they had surrendered 70 points to Baylor (I don’t care who you’re playing – giving up 70 points is embarrassing) and allowed FCS team Stony Brook to matriculate down the field in a touchdown drive that sent the game to overtime.
It was a tough, if not embarrassing, two weeks.
Buffalo is now 4-2 (2-0 Mid-American Conference) after defeating Western Michigan, 33-0, Saturday. The reason the Bulls have ripped off three straight impressive wins? It’s that very same defense, which has rebounded to form the most imposing unit in the conference.
The Bulls have won their past three games by an average of 30 points. Though they have put up 41, 42 and 33 points in those games, they have been so dominant because of the defense.
Just look at the Broncos’ stats from Saturday – 202 total yards (38 rushing), only 23:02 time of possession (compared to Buffalo’s nearly 40 minutes) and four turnovers. The Bulls also had seven tackles for loss.
Senior defensive end Colby Way had three sacks (for 25 yards), a career high. Senior linebacker Khalil Mack was Khalil Mack (six tackles, two tackles for loss, one fumble forced sack and another recovered – just another day on the job). Senior standout corner Najja Johnson had his third pick of the year.
Sure, the offense was good (it’s no off day whenever you score 33 points), but in reality, its stars’ stats were pedestrian. Sophomore quarterback Joe Licata went 11 for 21 for 124 yards. Senior receiver Alex Neutz had two catches for nine yards. It was seniors running back Branden Oliver (19 carries for 139 yards) and receiver Fred Lee (four catches for 88 yards and a touchdown) who carried the offense, but it was the defense that took over this game and has taken over Buffalo’s season.
That’s good news for Bulls fans. In the MAC, you need a couple stars on offense and a well-balanced shutdown defense to win games. Buffalo has those offensive stars in Oliver and Neutz. As for the defense? Show me the weakness.
The defensive line, led by Mack and Way, has been the most impressive unit. The linebackers, with senior Adam Redden’s emergence, have been thoroughly reliable. The defensive backs, led by the veteran, fifth-year Johnson, are making plays and flying around the field like ball hawks.
People who talk about UB’s 2008 MAC Championship team often mention quarterback Drew Willy, running back James Starks and wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt. They seem to forget, however, just how good that defense was, with players like Domonic Cook, Davonte Shannon and Mike Newton roaming the field and forcing their will on opposing offenses.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with comparisons. Western Michigan is 0-7. The Broncos are not very good; they’re rebuilding in the post-Alex Carder era.
Buffalo’s defensive performance, however, was no fluke – as we have seen each of the past three weeks.
The Bulls will face another woeful team, Massachusetts (1-5, 1-1 MAC), at home next week. There should be no reason for them to drop that game. That means Buffalo could – and should – be 5-2 (3-0 MAC) heading into three conference showdowns with Kent State, Ohio and Toledo.
That’s the time the pretenders will be separated from the contenders.
If the Bulls’ ‘D’ continues playing the way it has lately, they have realistic championship aspirations.