UB head coach Leipold: 'We just need to play ... better'

Bulls look to avoid 0-2 MAC start


When the football team faced Central Michigan last season, it was coming off a bye week that included the firing of former head coach Jeff Quinn.

The Bulls (2-3, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) will face Central Michigan after their bye week again this season, and while they aren’t in as much turmoil as this time a year ago, they need a win all the same.

“We just need to play and get better,” said head coach Lance Leipold. “I try to look at the positive of when the open week came and I think it was in as good as a spot as it could be.”

On Saturday, the Bulls (2-3, 0-1 MAC) will try to get their first conference win of the Leipold era when they travel to face Central Michigan (2-4, 1-1 MAC) at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. It will only be Buffalo’s second time playing at Central Michigan since joining the conference.

Leipold said the team used the time off to get back to the fundamentals of the game and adjusted practices, making them more like the practices the team went through during the spring.

“The bye allowed us some key reps,” Leipold said. “More reps … we wanted to use it in different ways. Offense vs. defense a bit more, we wanted to address on points of emphasis a bit more and we had a chance to work with some of younger players, which is something we wanted to do.”

The Bulls started off conference play with a 28-22 loss to Bowling Green (4-2, 2-0 MAC). The Falcons finished with 536 total yards of offense, while Buffalo’s offense matched with 500 yards of their own. But putting the ball into the end zone was a problem all day as Buffalo settled for field goals and gave up untimely turnovers.

Leipold said the team has to turn red zone drives into points, and more often than not, touchdowns.

One of the team’s perceived weakness may finally be coming together. The offensive line, which was heavily questioned for most of the preseason for losing three of the five starters, has finally begun to gel and is now playing as a cohesive unit. Leipold is impressed with the young talent, especially freshman center James O’Hagan.

“[Coaches] were just talking about [the offensive line] this morning,” Leipold said. “For a redshirt freshman, James O’Hagan has played well, played to what we expected. I poked my head in the offensive line meeting and they were talking about what he’s been doing well, but some things that he could do better.”

Leipold also mentioned he is impressed with sophomore guard Brandon Manosalvas as “a guy who could be moved around,” including an emergency switch to center if needed. Leipold said he was impressed with his physicality and play.

“[The offensive line] has to be able to have that whole group play and sustain themselves for four quarters and play at a high rate,” Leipold said.

The Chippewas are coming off a 41-39 loss to Western Michigan (2-3, 1-0 MAC) last week. After facing one of the top scoring offenses in the league two weeks ago, the Bulls will face a one of the worst offenses, as Central Michigan ranks 11th in scoring offense and ninth in total offense in the MAC.

But the Chippewas do have one of the better quarterbacks in the MAC in Cooper Rush. The 6-foot-3 junior ranks second in the conference with 1771 passing yards and third in touchdown passes (12). Rush may be impressive, but Leipold didn’t hesitate to mention Buffalo’s impressive quarterback option.

“I think there’s some similarities when you watch [senior quarterback Joe Licata,]” Leipold said. “Both are multi-year starters, both work with their arms, rather than their legs, good in the pocket and can pick you apart. We have to get to [Rush] with some pressure on him.”

One player the Bulls will have to stop on the offensive end is Chippewas senior tight end Ben McCord. On the season, the 6-foot-4 tight end totaled 22 catches for 273 yards and four touchdowns so far. And like senior Bulls tight end Matt Weiser, McCord was named to the Mackey Midseason list – a list that honors the best tight ends in Division-I college football.

Last year, the Chippewas defeated Buffalo 20-14. Central Michigan scored on a touchdown pass with 8:08 left to go in the fourth quarter, which put them ahead for good. Leipold said the loss still stung for some of the returning players and that the the extra motivation could help heading into Saturday’s game.

“We have to establish the line of scrimmage and be more consistent,” Leipold said. “I’m sure last year’s game is in the back of the mind of our players and they’re motivated by past performance and a chance for them to redeem themselves.”

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Haynes_Spectrum