For the good of the team

White should consider future of program following devastating loss

The Spectrum

The football team’s 36-35 loss to Bowling Green last Saturday should have been the Bulls’ low point of the season. Buffalo had let a late 35-30 lead over the reigning Mid-American Conference champions slip away, with nothing but itself to blame for its poor closing performance.

The anger and disappointment was evident on head coach Jeff Quinn’s face. Junior quarterback Joe Licata was far from his normal positive self as he solemnly walked out of the visiting locker room. Senior safety Adam Redden said the Bulls could not allow the 36-35 loss to be a “turning point to turmoil.”

After the Bulls’ (3-4, 1-2 MAC) 37-27 loss to Eastern Michigan (2-4, 1-1 MAC) Saturday, it appears that last week’s game was exactly that – a turning point to turmoil. It’s clear that the heartbreaking loss against the Falcons has had a lingering effect on this team.

Consider where Buffalo was just seven days ago: Leading by five with a chance to seal a victory on the road over the reigning conference champs. A week later, Buffalo is 1-2 in conference play and coming off a 10-point loss to a team that had previously won just two MAC games over the past two and half seasons.

Junior running back Anthone Taylor came into Saturday’s game with two consecutive 200-yard rushing performances. The game featured a player with over 200 rushing yards – only it wasn’t Taylor.

It was Reggie Bell – the Eagles’ freshman backup quarterback, who did not enter the game until Eastern Michigan’s final drive of the first half.

Bell torched the Bulls. He replaced starter Rob Bolden and used the read option to run for 202 yards and three touchdowns in essentially one half of football. Bell’s first touchdown went for 71 yards, and it was not even his longest run of the day. He later ran for a 72-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the Eagles up 37-20.

Quinn would not let a question about the Eagles’ read option attack be finished before he interjected.

“Do you think we know how to defend that play? We did,” Quinn said.

The results of the game do not support Quinn’s statement.

Buffalo looked completely unprepared to defend Bell and the option. Sophomore linebacker Jarrett Franklin essentially admitted the team did not prepare for the threat of the option leading up to the game.

“They did a lot of things that we didn’t practice during the week, mainly because the switch of the quarterback,” Franklin said.

Obviously more practice time should have been dedicated to stopping Bolden than Bell, but it looked as if the Bulls did not prepare for the threat of Bell entering the game at all. Bell had played in three games this year.

Buffalo mentally broke down after stopping the Eagles on a fourth and goal from the 2-yard line in the third quarter.

After the goal line stop, Buffalo’s next five possessions ended with two “three and outs,” an interception in the red zone, a blocked field goal attempt and a lost fumble on a kickoff return, respectively.

“Here is my overall thoughts: wasn’t good enough. It was unacceptable,” Quinn said after the game.

The game was unacceptable, and so has been Quinn’s performance this year.

More than halfway through the season, Buffalo has failed to put together a single complete performance against a comparable team. Yes, the team was going to take a step back after the graduation of star players like Khalil Mack and Branden Oliver, but last year’s team defeated Eastern Michigan 42-14.

This year’s team trailed the Eagles 30-13 in the fourth quarter. It is certainly fair to argue that Buffalo has just as much talent on its roster as EMU.

Redden said after the game that the Buffalo defense “has a better skill level than the Eagles’ defense and offense.”

And he is correct.

The defense has players like Redden and seniors Lee Skinner and Kristjan Sokoli – all of whom have All-MAC potential. The Bulls have one of the best quarterbacks in the MAC – if not the best – in Licata. They have the sixth-leading rusher in the nation in Taylor.

Yet they are just 1-2 in conference play and their defense ranks amongst the bottom of the FBS. The talent is there, so the issue must be coaching.

Athletic Director Danny White has made seven coaching changes in a little over two years in Buffalo. He has shown a willingness to terminate coaches to compete for conference championships. Would he be willing to do the same for the school’s largest and highest revenue-generating program?

One game does not warrant a coaching change, but a body of work does. Outside of last season’s seven-game winning streak with talented seniors leading the way, the Bulls have won just 13 games under Quinn. And without that mid-season win streak, Buffalo is 4-9 since the beginning of 2013.

After the game, Licata tweeted: “Sorry for the effort we gave on the field today. Unacceptable. Stay with us Bulls fans, we’ve got a lot of exciting moments ahead.”

I’m not so sure there will be too many exciting moments in the final half of this season and next season – which will be the remainder of Licata’s Buffalo career. The Bulls may have reached their peak in Licata’s sophomore season last year.

White should not be content with last season’s eight wins as the pinnacle of UB football.

White extended Quinn when his Buffalo coaching record was 9-27. For whatever reason, Quinn is White’s man. And following last season’s bowl game appearance, Quinn appeared to earn some leeway to continue coaching this team.

But the Bulls’ performance this season, and Saturday’s loss in particular, should put some doubt into White’s head as to where his football program is heading.

Quinn’s job is safe for this week, this season and for the foreseeable future. The team is coming off an 8-win season last year and attendance has never been higher.

But if White really is concerned with the future of this program and making Buffalo into “American’s next big-time college athletics brand,” he should start to consider what’s in its football team’s best interest, which might mean a change in leadership.