The UB football team knew what it was walking into Saturday afternoon in Madison, Wisconsin. Oddsmakers had the Bulls as 28-point underdogs against the new-look Wisconsin Badgers in their season opener.
But UB came to play.
The crowd of almost 80,000 in Madison was silenced early in the second quarter when Bulls sophomore safety Devin Grant nearly took an interception to the house. A touchdown would’ve put UB up 14-7, but the Bulls failed to capitalize. Four plays later, the score remained 7-7 as graduate kicker Alex McNulty missed a 34-yard field goal.
Wasted opportunities ultimately cost the Bulls in their upset bid against the Badgers and Wisconsin pulled away in the second half. UB fell 38-17 and dropped to 0-1.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday's game:
Cole to Cole connection
With the departure of 2022’s leading receivers Justin Marshall and Quian Williams, the Bulls starting receiving corps looked almost entirely new in 2023. With questions surrounding who would step up, graduate quarterback Cole Snyder spread the ball out to nine different receivers in the first half.
By the end of the game, Snyder appeared to find his new favorite target in graduate receiver Cole Harrity. Harrity led the team with five catches totalling 47 yards, including both of UB’s touchdowns. Keep an eye out to see if this connection continues to produce for the Bulls..
So much for the Wisconsin ‘Air Raid’
The arrival of new offensive coordinator Phil Longo and transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai (SMU) had many expecting the Wisconsin offense to be more focused on the passing game this season, compared to their usual run-heavy scheme.
This was not the case against UB, as the Badgers gashed the Bulls for 314 yards rushing, averaging an elite 7.9 yards a carry. Illustrated by an 89-yard touchdown run by graduate running back Chez Mellusi, the Bulls had no answers for the Wisconsin ground attack throughout the afternoon.
Split backfield for Bulls
A bounce-back season is expected for fifth year running back Ron Cook Jr. after injuries limited his 2022 season. In recent history, the UB offense has been run-heavy, utilizing talented backs like Jaret Patterson, Kevin Marks Jr. and Dylan McDuffie.
The 2023 iteration of the UB offense figures to be more of the same under new offensive coordinator DJ Mangas. Cook Jr. and sophomore running back Mike Washington Jr. split the backfield on Saturday, with each back getting 12 carries. They finished the game with 51 and 52 yards respectively.
The usual suspects on defense
As was the case in 2022, the Bulls’ defense was led by graduate safety Marcus Fuqua and senior linebacker Shaun Dolac. Last season, Fuqua was named to the AP All-America Third Team defense, finishing with an FBS-leading seven interceptions. Dolac also led the way in the nation with 97 solo tackles, setting a new UB school-record.
Ironically, the roles were reversed on Saturday, with Fuqua leading the team with 11 total tackles and Dolac snagging an interception.
Both players figure to be an integral part of a veteran UB defense in 2023.
Despite Saturday’s loss, the Bulls showed plenty of promise in a game that projected to be a blowout.
UB will return home for the first time this season, hosting Fordham (1-1) this Saturday at 6 p.m. at UB Stadium The Rams are coming off a 2022 campaign in which they finished 9-3, losing in the FCS Championship.
Since 2017, UB boasts a home record of 22-10.
Brandon Cochi is the sports desk editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org