Buffalo's defense finally shows up

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The Spectrum

Buffalo’s ‘D’ entered Saturday allowing 46 points and 502 yards per game.

Norfolk State’s offense totaled 20 points and 637 yards through its first three games.

One of these statistics had to drastically change. And even though Norfolk State is an FCS school without a win this season, it was no guarantee that the Bulls’ defense would take the game over.

Well, Buffalo’s ‘D’ took the game over.

After a 68-yard Norfolk State touchdown pass on the team’s second possession, the Buffalo defense allowed only six more yards the remainder of the half. The Spartans didn’t complete another pass until the fourth quarter – 41 minutes later.

“Defensively, we really found our identity,” said senior linebacker Jake Stockman. “After that specific play, the mentality on the sideline wasn’t anger toward each other, but anger toward not doing what we know we can do. That kind of lights a little fuel under our butt.”

A ‘not again’ moment came into my head after that big touchdown. The Bulls had just scored a 92-yard touchdown of their own, but another shootout was the last thing the Bulls needed in their final non-conference game. After seeing all the explosive plays of the previous three games, I knew this one had the potential to be the same.

And Buffalo hadn’t fared well against FCS schools recently. Duquesne had 28 points and 373 yards against UB in the season opener. Last year, Stony Brook had 23 points and 440 yards.

But those thoughts quickly escaped.

Nine of Norfolk State’s first half plays went for negative yards. When you add in the three incompletions, less than half of the plays (9 for 21) were for a gain.

The Bulls finished with three sacks and 10 tackles for loss after totaling only five sacks and 13 tackles for loss in their first three games combined. Norfolk State finished with only seven points and 215 yards.

I don’t care how bad the team you are playing is: these numbers say a lot.

This 36-7 victory and dominant defensive performance was needed. Although defensive players said after the game they never lost confidence, it’s hard to believe that’s true after watching three offensive outbursts to begin the season.

“I feel like our mojo never left,” said senior safety Adam Redden. “We started out kind of slow, we got to pick it up. We play with more of a swagger now.”

That word “swagger’ – which is quickly becoming the most overused term in sports – means a lot more after shutting a team down for all 60 minutes – or at least 59:50.

Norfolk State averaged 2.5 yard per carry. Its quarterback, Terrance Ervin, completed only three of 12 attempts. The three completions were the fewest allowed by Buffalo in the Division-I era – dating to 1999.

The Bulls entered as the better team and, for the first time all season, proved it.

Redden led the Bulls with six tackles. He added one and a half tackles for losses and a forced fumble. Newly converted cornerback Boise Ross and linebacker Nick Gilbo had five tackles each.

But again, this was against an FCS school. This must be factored in. Not only an FCS school, but one that struggled against other FCS universities.

The “real season” is about to begin. And the question still remains: Can Buffalo’s ‘D’ contain Mid-American Conference competition?

At least we saw there is potential for this this to happen.

There are no more FCS schools. There are also no more ‘Baylor’s.’ Every game is winnable and against a comparable school.

There are no more excuses.

The Bulls’ 2-2 start to the season is what many fans and media members expected.

The 502 yards per game wasn’t. Neither were the 46 points per game or 20 allowed touchdowns through three games.

“You’re never where you want to be being 2-2. You want to be 4-0. Period. End of story,” said head coach Jeff Quinn. “At this point we’re not going to live in the past. We’re going to learn and get better.”

But now, the Bulls have encouraging film to learn from. Not from only a particular defensive series, but an entire game. That hasn’t happened since Buffalo’s 44-7 victory against Miami Ohio last November.

The Bulls begin conference play with Miami Ohio, who is 0-4 to begin the season. And Miami Ohio has a 17-10 loss to FCS Eastern Kentucky this season.

Buffalo has to forget about the previous four games. They don’t mean anything anymore. As junior quarterback Joe Licata put it, “we have no choice.”

The season begins Saturday. We’ll see how far “swagger” takes this team.

email: owen.obrien@ubspectrum.com