Top-Five Performers: Buffalo

In the abscence of JoLonn Dunbar, Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez- a bunch of Top-Five regulars- a few underclassmen stepped up in the driving rainstorm on Saturday and made a name for themselves. A new #94 stole the show on defense.

#5. LB Mike McLaughlin (7 tackles - 5 solo)

An opponent like Buffalo allows for a lot of the younger guys to see some action, and McLaughlin took advantage of the exposure. Most of his damage was done on special teams, where McLaughlin was the first guy to the ball on every kickoff. And he didn't just bring them down, either, he destroyed the ball carrier (usually Buffalo's primary return-man Naaman Roosevelt) every time he crossed the 25. McLaughlin's savage hit-depository continued when he got in on defense, which happened more and more often as the game went on. He showed speed (he had some impressive chase-and-tackles on Bulls' halfback James Starks), hurtful tackling ability, and, most importantly, he showed that he can hold his own in the middle-linebacker spot when guys like Jolonn Dunbar (who sat out with an injury) and Mark Herzlich are on the sidelines.

#4. QB Chris Crane (17-26, 142 yards, TD; 10 rushes, 12 yards, 2 TDs)

Considering the absurd weather conditions on Saturday, it wasn't easy judging Crane's performance properly. He had some ugly passes, he had some balls slip out of his hands, he fumbled snaps, he overthrew a few open receivers (once for an interception), but who's to say that that wouldn't have happened to Matt Ryan had he been forced to play in that downpour? The fact is, the offense was unstoppable with Crane at the helm (punter Johnny Ayers registered just one kick the whole afternoon) and the game – and Crane's ability to march down the field, for that matter - was never in doubt. Crane did the type of things that he was able to do successfully in the spring and in preseason scrimmages: He scrambled when nothing was available, proved he had an above-average arm, and looked completely comfortable with the rest of the offense.

#3. PR Dejuan Tribble (3 punt returns, 98 yards)

Tribble didn't have to do too much as a corner – Buffalo rarely threw the ball more than five or 10 yards downfield all game - but he was a huge weapon on special teams. His first return of the day was a 20-yarder off a blasted, 48-yard punt by Ben Woods. Tribble's next take-back was the big one, a 69-yarder that would surely have been a touchdown if Tribble didn't have to play a full possession on defense prior to the kick, which made him run off out of breath at the end of the return. He had the blockers (in front of him, at least) and had an open lane to the end zone, but was taken down from behind by a less-winded Bull that he couldn't see. Oh well, it was still a career long and Tribble has seen the end zone before on a punt return (his freshman year at West Virginia he took one back 41 yards), so it wasn't like he would have reached uncharted territory. Plus, his big day on special teams jumped his return average up to 10.5 (from 6.3), which is good for fifth-best in the conference. Tribble's two returns set up two scoring drives (a field goal and a touchdown, respectively), which got the Eagles out to an early 10-0 lead. 

#2. RB L.V. Whitworth (10 rushes, 84 yards, TD; 2 catches, 20 yards)/RB Andre Callender (16 rushes, 81 yards)

The Eagles' dominant day on the ground (207 yards) was a group effort, headlined by Whitworth and Callender (though much of the credit has to go to the offensive line). The two junior tailbacks together averaged more than six yards a carry and took most of the heat off the fill-in Crane. When the field is drenched and the rain is falling sideways, you must be able to run the ball successfully as often as possible (as Tom O'Brien admitted after the game) and L.V. and Dre made it happen. 

Whitworth's Play of the Game: On third-and-two from the Buffalo 43-yard line on the first possession of the third quarter, Whitworth exploded through a gaping hole to the left of center, made one juke, and outran the secondary for a career-long, 43-yard touchdown that put the Eagles up 31-0.

Callender's Play of the Game: In the second quarter, Callender busted one straight up the gut for his own career-best of 33 yards on third-and-three, which got the offense into Buffalo territory and eventually set up a Crane TD pass.

#1. LB Mark Herzlich (14 tackles – 11 solo, TFL, FF)

Having seen what Herzlich has done over the past few weeks, there's no way you'd think he was a true freshman. With Dunbar out, Herzlich started at middle linebacker and never missed a step. He flew all over the field like Dunbar would, hit Starks hard at the line when Buffalo actually decided to run it, and even spoke like a proud veteran after the game when he described the defense's urgency to pitch a shutout as Buffalo threatened to score in Saturday's waning moments:

"Our goal every week is to hold the other team to zero points. Nobody on our whole team thought that if they score, we'll just get the ball back and run it out. That was not the mentality, the mentality was that we needed to hold them, we need to get a turnover, we need to do something to keep that zero on the board."

And the best part was, Herzlich wasn't even on the field during that series (which ended with a pick in the end zone by Paul Anderson), McLaughlin was. No wonder why Herzlich is in on more and more snaps every week. He's like a fifth-year senior with a true freshman's driver's license.

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