The expectations for the UB football team have been the same through the first three games of the season: dominate the inferior opponent.
The Bulls’ first three games resulted in blowouts, featuring the emergence of new stars and record-breaking performances from familiar faces.
As UB approaches Week 4, the caliber of the opponent changes but the expectations remain the same.
The Kent State Golden Flashes are a different beast, and bring new challenges to a Buffalo team that has made the first three weeks look easy.
Kent ranks first in the MAC with 52.7 points and 616 yards per game. Senior quarterback Dustin Crum has been lighting up opposing defenses, ranking second in the MAC with 838 passing yards and nine passing touchdowns. Junior receiver Isiah McKoy has also emerged as a legitimate number one target, with 318 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
With a fast-paced and high powered-offense, Kent State poses threats across the field. This isn’t an inexperienced Northern Illinois team or a rebuilding Bowling Green program, it’s one of the best offenses in college football, and UB hasn’t faced anything like it this season.
“It’s a whole defensive challenge, obviously a lot of that gets put on the secondary,” head coach Lance Leipold said. “[They run] a lot of different concepts, they spread you out [and] they go fast, the whole premise is to try to get as many plays run as they can.”
The fast pace and spread offense system of Kent State puts pressure on opposing defenses to not only make the right reads but cover all parts of the field.
Not only will coverage be a challenge, generating a pass rush will also be difficult.
“They’re going to spread you out [and] create passing lanes, [and] they have big tall receivers, that’s going to be the challenge on the outside,” Leipold said. “The speed and size of their receivers and their ability to get the ball to them. We have to tackle well, they have to cover well, and again when the ball comes out quickly, sometimes it’s tough to get to the quarterback so it’s going to be a huge challenge for our defense.”
Leipold emphasized the importance of containing Crum, who he called the “best quarterback in the MAC.”
The threat Crum poses not only through the air but also on the ground makes him extremely difficult to gameplan for. His ability to run not only results in huge chunk plays, but also helps open the field up for the running backs. When all eyes are on the quarterback, other players are left unaccounted for, and the Golden Flashes make the most of these opportunities.
“[Crum] played extremely well these last few years, has a great command of their offense, he’s a running threat, and he’s very accurate. Within any zone-read game he's a threat to keep it,” Leipold said. “[Crum] opens up other things for running backs, I think they have a nice stable of backs that give them a lot of different looks.
“So, I think it all kind of fits together with them. I think they try to show multiple looks, spread out and do a lot of different things. They all play off each other and you see a lot of players that have played quite a bit of football for them. You can see that in their execution and their confidence as they go about it.”
Kent State’s confidence not only radiates through its quarterback but also through its head coach. In his third season with the Golden Flashes, Sean Lewis is building a new culture in Kent. The 34-year-old is the youngest head coach in the FBS, and after a difficult first season, Lewis has found his stride. Implementing a fast-paced spread offense based on maximizing offensive opportunities, Lewis has become a fan favorite and a strong candidate for the next big job openings in college football.
“Sean’s an energetic, hardworking and young coach. One of the brighter young head coaches in FBS football,” Leipold said. “He's going to have a bright future and many options in his future just by watching what he's done there. His team plays with confidence and, and it starts with him.”
The identity of Kent isn’t a secret: opponents know what to expect before the opening whistle sounds. It’s not knowing what’s coming that’s difficult, it’s stopping it.
By pressing the foot on the gas for the entire game, Kent has managed to tire out its opponents, something Leipold and the Bulls know is coming.
“They’re going to be aggressive and they’re going to try to gain possessions in different ways,” Leipold said. “You better be ready to play 60 plus minutes of football and as many snaps that can be had in those 60 minutes if you want a chance to beat them.”
While the Bulls look forward to Saturday’s matchup against Kent, it’s hard to forget what happened the last time UB faced the Golden Flashes.
The Bulls had a controlling 27-6 lead with just 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, before Kent State rallied to score 24 points, shocking Leipold in a 30-27 stunner.
Leipold kept it short when addressing last season’s loss, stating the team is ready to avenge last year’s performance.
“To sit there and dwell on it is not going to cut it,” Leipold said. “We’ve acknowledged it and I think the guys that were in the game remember it and want to make sure that we don’t have any repeat performances.”
Kent State poses the biggest threat to the Bulls’ MAC championship hopes, but Leipold insists there isn’t any additional emphasis on this game.
Every game is important, and each week brings its own set of challenges. No matter who the opponent is, it’s business as usual.
“We are excited for Saturday, playing against an excellent team, another opportunity to play on national television,” Leipold said. “It’s not things that we really talk a whole lot about in our program, it’s never been really the way we’ve gone about it, putting more value on one game than the other because they’re all important.”
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.