UB had everything to lose and little to gain going into Thursday night’s season opener against FCS opponent Wagner.
A massive 48.5-point favorite heading into the contest, the reigning Camellia Bowl champions were expected to dominate the Seahawks in Maurice Linguist’s first game as head coach.
The anticipation was reminiscent of former UB head coach Lance Leipold’s first game in the Queen City, a 51-14 victory over FCS foe Albany in 2015.
UB started the Maurice Linguist era in a similar fashion.
The Bulls dominated Wagner in all three facets of the game, beating the Seahawks 69-7 in front of a raucous student section — and a recorded 13,063 people — Thursday night.
“I’m really proud of the attitude and effort that our guys played with and the connection and confidence they took on the field,” Linguist said after the game. “It’s a testament to the players and the coaching staff just preparing every single day. I told the team early on this week, this game is definitely not about any one individual, certainly not me, it’s about the players that play the game, it’s about the coaches giving the players the tools that they need to succeed.”
Senior quarterback Kyle Vantrease led a balanced offensive attack with 231 yards on 15-for-19 passing and one touchdown. Fifth-year senior receiver Jovany Ruiz caught Vantrease’s only touchdown and hauled in three catches for 76 yards. Senior wide receiver Quian Williams — who transferred from Eastern Michigan this offseason — made a strong first impression, catching five passes for a team-best 97 yards.
“Our receiving corps did a great job tonight, making plays, going up and making catches, running after the catch. They put in the work this offseason so they deserve everything that they’re getting,” Vantrease said. “But everything they are doing wouldn’t be possible without the offensive line and the running backs protecting and setting us up for success.”
The ground game that made UB so successful last season was also on display against Wagner, with two running backs (senior Kevin Marks Jr. and junior Dylan McDuffie) finding pay dirt twice. Junior running backs Ron Cook Jr. (94 yards) and Tajay Ahmed (42 yards) both scored touchdowns while senior tight end Jake Molinich punched in a one-yard score from the fullback position.
On the other side of the ball, fifth-year senior Taylor Riggins — who was sidelined for the entire 2020 season with an undisclosed injury — made his presence felt with a team-high in sacks (two) and total tackles (six). Senior linebacker James Patterson tallied five tackles while sophomore defensive tackles Daishon Folsom and George Wollo each recorded one sack.
The Bulls’ defense held Wagner to only 92 total yards, allowing just 13 rushing yards.
“The defensive line did a great job of just attacking the quarterback,” Linguist said. “Our linebackers flowed on the second level and the secondary covered all night so [we] definitely had a lot of great things going on that side of the ball and it was good to see.”
While Thursday’s game featured Linguist’s head coaching debut, it also marked the return of fans.
UB Stadium hosted fans for the first time in 640 days, and the rambunctious “True Blue” student section showed up to create the “intimidating atmosphere” Linguist mentioned during his pre-game press conference Tuesday.
“Our student section, our ‘True Blue’ section, they shined through,” Linguist said. “They did a great job at [creating an] intimidating atmosphere. And the challenge is now to change their best, we need more students, we need every student to bring another student with them. We’re really excited to get people back in the stands and back in the normal swing of things.”
Despite the Bulls’ large margin of victory, Linguist insists tonight’s game is only the beginning of better things to come for UB.
He knows transforming the program will be a process, and that doesn’t bother him one bit.
“Things that we laid out in terms of our initial vision, we saw a lot of those things tonight,” Linguist said. “But we’re certainly far from any kind of finished product or anything like that. We’re going to continue to work, put our heads down and see how good we can get.”
The Bulls will travel to Memorial Stadium to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
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.