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Monday, December 05, 2022
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How UB football used poise and continuity to turn its season around

Maurice Linguist and the Bulls are 5-1 since starting the season with an 0-3 record.
Maurice Linguist and the Bulls are 5-1 since starting the season with an 0-3 record.

Maurice Linguist dreamt of moments like this.

Down by 17 points entering the fourth quarter during last Saturday’s game against then-MAC West-leading Toledo, UB had to rally in order to keep its winning streak alive.

But the Bulls have become accustomed to beating the odds.

UB scored 24 unanswered points to beat Toledo last Saturday. The Bulls opened up the season on a three-game losing streak but are now 5-1 since losing to Coastal Carolina in September.

Linguist, now in his second season as the Bulls’ head coach, met his team in the locker room after the 17-point comeback against Toledo. Overcome with emotion, the 38-year-old fought back tears when addressing his group following the unforgettable game.

“I was just so proud of them, I don’t have the words to express how proud I am of that locker room,” Linguist told The Spectrum. “Those guys and their coaching staff, I mean, hours worked, the time we spend, the battles you have. What we are doing and what they did is not common. It’s not common in football. I think more than anything in today’s society, it’s easier to quit than to persevere. And they chose character, they chose grit and determination.”

To the casual spectator, the Bulls were dead in the water.

UB (expectedly) lost to Maryland in Week 1. But things slid downhill after that.

The Bulls fell to FCS opponent Holy Cross after a heartbreaking Hail Mary as time expired the following week. Then, a fourth quarter collapse against Coastal Carolina (the Bulls were outscored by 14 points in the final period) resulted in an 0-3 start — UB’s worst through three games since 2005.

Despite the historically bad beginning to the season, Linguist and the Bulls turned things around. They won five consecutive games (before losing to Ohio Tuesday night) and are in contention for the top spot in the conference.

Last Saturday’s epic comeback had the makings of a Hollywood script, and it came at just the right time.

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“That game was really a microcosm of our entire season,” Linguist said after the game. “Starting off the season 0-3, a lot of people doubted us. A lot of people didn’t believe in us. All we did was keep staying together and keep fighting. We’re not done yet.”

Linguist’s display of raw emotion might have gone viral on social media, but it didn’t come as a surprise to anybody in the Bulls’ locker room. Emotions that strong can come out “after a tough drill on a Thursday practice,” Linguist says.

That’s a part of the culture he is creating at UB.

As a former Division I player at Baylor from 2003 to 2006, Linguist understands the player perspective. Take it from his players. 

“He’s a player’s coach,” junior safety Marcus Fuqua said. “You saw the energy in that video. That’s really him every single day. He pours so much into us and we love him.”

“We’re all thankful for him,” graduate wide receiver Quian Williams said. “I couldn’t ask for any other head coach.”

But with great emotion comes the risk of losing one’s focus.

Linguist learned that the hard way this season, and even last season. After a four-game skid to end the 2021 season and a 0-3 start to this year, UB owned one of the longest losing streaks in the country. 

The second-year head coach relied on his previous experiences — 14 years coaching in the NFL (Dallas Cowboys), SEC (Mississippi State, Texas A&M), Big Ten (Minnesota, Michigan), Big 12 (Baylor, Iowa State), MAC (UB), FCS (James Madison) and Division II levels (Valdosta State) — to stay level-headed.

“I think if you’re not careful you can kind of get caught up. I think emotions are real. I think it’s good to have the emotion, but you have to stay poised through the whole thing,” Linguist said. “What football has taught me is stay poised. I believe in just being able to be a strong leader. What the team needed at the moment was a strong leader. And I felt like that’s the biggest thing that I want to provide to them.”

Linguist told his players he felt they were a “championship team” after every loss this season.

But there was still something missing: strong second half performances.

UB was outscored by a combined 38 points in the second half of its three losses to start the season.

The Bulls weren’t executing in the second half through three games. But that all changed once MAC play started. 

UB won a back-and-forth battle with Eastern Michigan, as the defense forced three turnovers on downs, a punt and an interception (courtesy of graduate linebacker James Patterson) in the second half. The offense exploded for 50 points, 20 of which came in the second half.

“That was our first shutout in the fourth quarter, [we] figured out how to finish,” Fuqua said. “We figured out that we can be an elite team if we want to be, but it’s all up to us.”

The Bulls outscored their opponents by a combined 45 points in the second half during the five-game winning streak that followed. They’ve also pitched five fourth quarter shutouts. UB would be at the top of the conference if it weren’t for a recent 45-24 loss to now-MAC-leading Ohio.

From nightmare finishes against Holy Cross and Coastal Carolina to some of the program’s best finishes, Linguist and his staff emphasized that the fourth quarter is where games are won and lost.

“We lose to Holy Cross, we lost the game in the fourth quarter. We lose to Coastal Carolina, we lost the game in the fourth quarter,” Linguist said. “So all we talked about from a coaching perspective was finishing the fourth quarter against Eastern [Michigan]. That was the next right step for us to take in that moment at that time.”

The players are also flourishing individually alongside their team.

Fuqua is currently tied for first in the country with five interceptions. He was also named Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week by the Football Writers Association of America after a three-interception showing against Toledo. The Southfield, Michigan native is the first player in UB history to win the award.

Junior linebacker Shaun Dolac ranks first in the nation with 68 solo tackles.

Williams, graduate receiver Justin Marshall and sophomore receiver Jamari Gassett have combined for 1,431 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Cole Snyder has thrown for 2,145 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for 124 yards and four touchdowns.

On the ground, senior running back Ron Cook Jr. has racked up 500 yards and three rushing touchdowns while redshirt freshman Mike Washington has 506 yards and six touchdowns.

“We were always bought in, we always knew we were a championship team,” Fuqua said. “We started slow, we just didn’t finish those games. We didn’t make enough plays. We just stayed bought into the program and now we’re seeing the benefits of it.”

Renowned as one of the nation’s top recruiters (look no further than UB’s No. 1 overall ranked recruiting class in the MAC this offseason), Linguist knows how to connect with players. 

In the offseason, he invited all of the different position groups to dinner at his house. With strong bonds off the field, he believes his team is prepared to overcome whatever chaos a football season can bring.

UB’s response to the 0-3 start proved that.

“Relationships is a four-letter word spelled t-i-m-e,” Linguist said. “Time allows you to develop trust and trust allows you to develop respect and love and have each other’s back. Then you can have any kind of conversations you need to have when you actually trust someone. And I think we have so much trust and respect in that locker room and there’s real love. We’re able to go through hard things, have real conversations.”

Linguist’s messaging and philosophy are resonating with the team.

“Everything that is going on between these walls, it’s working,” Cook Jr. said after the win against Toledo. “It’s definitely seeping into our brains.”

“It’s working because we’re bought in, that’s really it,” Fuqua said. “We believe in the vision that coach Mo [Linguist] has for us and we’re going out there and living it.”

The Bulls are now in a position to become bowl-eligible for the first time under Linguist’s regime, bouncing back from a disappointing 4-8 record last year.

It’s a major jump for a program that needed it after former head coach Lance Leipold left for the University of Kansas in the spring of 2021.

And after a rocky stretch of subpar performances, UB has hit its stride. UB is coming off a tough loss to Ohio, but Linguist and the Bulls are proving that they are ready for the moment.

No matter the outcome, Linguist will continue to be emotional and wear his heart on his sleeve.

It’s simply how he’s wired.

“You’ve gotta be real, be genuine, be you. We want to be us, be who we are,” Linguist said. “I love my players. I love my guys. I love my staff. I love what we’re doing. I’ve got the best job in the United States of America. I love where I am. I love the people I’m surrounded with. We want to just continue to drive Buffalo forward and continue to make us into a nationally-known program.”

Anthony DeCicco is the Editor-in-Chief and can be reached at anthony.decicco@ubspectrum.com


ANTHONY DECICCO
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Anthony DeCicco is the Editor-in-Chief of The Spectrum. His words have appeared in outlets such as SLAM Magazine. In 2020, he was awarded First Prize for Sports Column Writing at the Society of Professional Journalists' Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards. In his free time, he can be found watching ‘90s Knicks games and reading NFL Mock Drafts at 3 a.m. 

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