Bulls Hope to Silence Army's Guns
Michie Stadium, on the Army Military Academy campus in West Point, N.Y. was rated the third-"best place in the world to watch sports" in Sports Illustrated's 1999 "Top 20 Venues," falling behind only Yankee Stadium and Augusta National Golf Course.
"Game day at West Point begins three hours before kickoff with a cadet parade on The Plain," according to the article dated June 7, 1999. "The corps of cadets, seated together and dressed in gray and black, evokes memories of when Army was one of the most formidable of college football powers. Cannon blasts shake the 76-year old edifice to its foundation every time the Black Knights score."
The UB Bulls (2-7, 1-6 MAC) will get their first taste of such pageantry when they travel to West Point to take on the Army Black Knights (2-6, 2-4 Conference USA) Saturday at 1 p.m.
"In 1975 I was a freshman playing freshman football with Cornell and we played Army's freshmen," reflected Bulls Head Coach Jim Hofher during a media luncheon Tuesday. "At five o'clock, in the middle of the game, it might have been in the middle of a play, a cannon goes off and all the guys at Army stopped and took their helmets off. We didn't know if we were being attacked!"
UB Sports Information Director Paul Vecchio was more impressed that the players actually wore helmets in Hofher's day than he was with the coach's anecdote. Vecchio's comment drew an eerie silence and a scowl from Hofher, leaving little doubt that Vecchio's car would be overturned by a group of linemen later that afternoon.
All kidding aside, the Bulls have had the Army game, which was postponed due to the Sept. 11 attacks, circled on their calendars for some time. For seniors like defensive lineman Omari Jordan and quarterback Joe Freedy, it will be the final road trip of their careers.
"I used to see them on TV, cannon blasts going off and people doing push-ups in the stands," Jordan said. "That's what football is all about. A school like that with so much tradition, you feel real good about yourself going out there to compete."
"I don't want to see any push-ups or cannons, though."
The Bulls will have to find a way to bring themselves back down to earth following a 44-0 blowout win over Ohio last week. The score was the biggest point differential in any MAC game this season.
"One week isn't good enough. It's great that we won - and by that margin," Freedy said. "But one week isn't going to show everyone that we are a great team. We haven't arrived yet."
"In football, you enjoy the fruits of a victory over the weekend, but come Monday at practice, we all knew we've got a tough opponent ahead in Army," Jordan said. "We knew we had to get back down to business, and put that victory behind us."
The crucial offensive element for UB will be Freedy, who was named the MAC East offensive player of the week for his 25 of 38, 296 yard performance last week. Buffalo will face an eight-man front geared to stop the run, so the onus will be on Freedy to move the ball in the passing game.
Hofher stressed, however, that the Bulls have to run the ball to be successful, no matter how many men they have to block.
"We've got to figure out a way to be able to run the football," he said. "When we do that, it opens up more things for us in our playbook, and it opens up play-action."
The Bulls will face an offense that has converted to a brand new set for 2001. The Black Knights use a single-back formation instead of the wishbone style that they played last year.
"They're a very imposing offense," Hofher said. "[Army quarterback Chad Jenkins] is a very productive guy, an aggressive player and runner."
Army, however, has had numerous problems with ball security. The Black Knights have turned the ball over 21 times in their eight games this season.
"You're not going to win games if you continue to turn the football over," Army Head Coach Todd Berry said. "But, we're going to be aggressive, and when you're aggressive sometimes that happens a little more."