Thursday night’s victory over Wagner was a feel-good moment for first-year UB head coach Maurice Linguist.
The Bulls beat down on D1-FCS opponent Wagner by 62 points, got nearly all its reserves in the game and even saw Linguist mobbed by his players and doused with water in the locker room following the win.
Linguist’s head coaching debut was exactly how UB drew it up: a dominant victory with big smiles and a happy head coach.
But the Bulls must now flip a switch.
UB won’t be playing an inferior FCS opponent.
Instead, the Bulls will pack their bags and hop on a plane to Lincoln, NE, where they will face Big Ten foe Nebraska in front of a raucous Memorial Stadium crowd on Saturday.
It will be Linguist’s first major challenge as the Bulls’ head coach, and he knows it.
“We definitely feel like we’ve got a big task, a big uphill battle in front of us,” Linguist said in a press conference at the Murchie Family Fieldhouse Tuesday afternoon. “Our job is to get ourselves prepared to go play our best football from Week One to Week Two.”
While the Bulls will be making a sizable jump talent-wise from Wagner to Nebraska, UB has experience playing against a Big Ten school in the not-so-distant past.
A handful of Bulls on the current roster (including quarterback Kyle Vantrease and running back Kevin Marks, both seniors) traveled to Happy Valley to play Penn State two years ago. UB lost that game 45-13 to the then 10th-ranked Nittany Lions.
Not only do his upperclassmen have Big Ten experience, but Linguist — who served as a defensive assistant at Iowa State, Minnesota and Michigan — has spent more than three years as a coach in the Power Five conference.
Linguist noted that while he’s coached against Nebraska before, every collegiate team is a revolving door thanks to new recruits and the ever-changing transfer portal.
“Every team has a one-year lifespan and a one-year lifecycle,” Linguist said. “This is going to be a new team that we’re collectively playing together. Although I’ve been on the field coaching against a Nebraska team before, it wasn’t this team. We’re really watching this team for who they are, what they’re about, and then really identifying what we have to do to give ourselves a chance to go out there and be successful.”
In their Week One tilt against Wagner, the Bulls played in front of a solid crowd of 13,063 spectators. While the fans provided UB with a nice home-field advantage, that number is minuscule in comparison to Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, which hosts more than 85,000 fans per game.
The Cornhuskers have sold out 376 games in a row, and that number will jump to 377 when UB comes into town, according to Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts.
In preparation for the raucous Nebraska faithful, Linguist showed his players videos of a packed Memorial Stadium so they can understand what Saturday afternoon might sound like.
He also told his players the moment isn’t too big for them.
The field at UB Stadium has the same measurements as a packed Memorial Stadium, no matter how many people are in attendance, Linguist told his team.
“Those dimensions have not changed,” Linguist said. “The atmosphere and the environment around us can change, but the field hasn’t changed. ‘Let’s stick to the game plan and what’s in front of us in our job responsibilities and what we have to do.’”
UB is heading into Saturday’s contest as 13.5-point underdogs, but Linguist says his team isn’t caught up in how the oddsmakers view the contest.
His team isn’t heading into Lincoln with an “underdog mentality,” he says.
The Bulls want to play true to themselves, blocking out all outside noise — including what the media has to say about them.
“What we want to do is just play the game the way we play the game in our identity, in our brand of football, regardless of who’s on the other side,” Linguist said. “So we let the narrative of the underdogs and all those things be taken care of on the outside of our four walls, but we go back to our systematic approach to how we do things and put ourselves in the best position and mindset to go out there and play our brand of football.”
The Bulls will travel to Memorial Stadium to take on Nebraska Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network and on radio at ESPN 1520.
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.