UB Bulls' defense the key to salvaging season

Buffalo takes on Ohio Saturday needing big defensive performance

I’m a bit concerned about the defense the Buffalo football team is playing against Saturday.

Ohio is second in the conference in scoring defense, but what scares me the most is the playmakers they have on the defensive side of the ball, like linebacker Quentin (excellent name, by the way) Polling, who has has four tackles for losses and three sacks on the season.

This will be Buffalo’s toughest defensive matchup since Penn State in Week Two.

But Buffalo has a much larger issue at the moment: The defense isn’t great and I don’t know how the Bulls can fix it.

The Buffalo linebackers are good and they make plays. You don’t have to worry about them. The trio of Nick Gilbo, Okezie Alozie and Brandon Berry are performing well this season, both as pure tackles, but also as playmakers. It’s that combination, combined with the leadership they provide as upperclassmen that makes them a special unit.

But that defensive line, though.

That’s an issue that’s been there since the start of the season. Outside of the Bulls’ historic performance against Florida Atlantic, the Bulls have struggled to make plays on the ball, while being unable to stop the run.

The deadly two-head combination of not being able to generate a pass rush and not being able to stop the run has relegated this unit to be nothing more than a couple guys on the field. No pass rush means the opposing quarterback can take his time in the pocket and make accurate throws. No run defense means when a team gets the lead, they can control the game and the clock.

I’ll contend that the Bulls are still working on the transition from the 3-3-5 to the 4-3 defense, but during the last three games, we haven’t seen the Bulls stopping anyone from running the ball, nor getting a pass rush. That simply can’t continue to happen if the Bulls want to win another game this season.

The backend of the defense, the secondary, has been average as well.

Junior cornerback Boise Ross is good, even as his statistics dipped a bit. I’ve seen several games where an opposing team refuses to throw to its best receiver because Ross is switched onto them. I don’t know if he’s a “shutdown corner,” per se, but if teams are respecting his ability and going away from him, he’s doing something right.

But teams that go away from Ross have found success in targeting senior cornerback Marqus Baker. Behind Baker and Ross are two inexperienced safeties in sophomores Ryan Williamson and Andrews Dadeboe. You can’t do much about that, though, as both are long-term fixtures to the defense and belong on the field.

There’s still time and I could be very wrong about this, but the Bulls have to find a way to generate pressure on the quarterback. If anything else, the ability to force the opposing quarterback out of the pocket can create more turnovers and force the coaches to add an extra man to block like a tight end.

If the Bulls want any chance of a bowl game, the defense must become reminiscent of its game against Florida Atlantic. Not the one that’s been on display the last couple of weeks.

Ohio 21, Buffalo 14

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