Buffalo Defense Will Be Tested (Again!) By MU

Buffalo is struggling on both sides of the ball, but the defense side was expected to be a strength for the Bulls. Nine starters returned, along with 20 lettermen, and in the pre-season Coach Jim Hofher said, "The differences on either side of the ball from '02 to'03 are there simply will not be the number of newcomers playing for the first time...there will be much more familiarity between coaches and players...that should make ourpreparations better for each opponent in 2003."

So far, it has not worked out that way for the Bulls, who have lost all seven games this year and 17 in a row back to 2002. They have been able to have eight starters in the lineup in each of the seven losses but thus far it has resulted in the defense ranking 12th in passing defense (265.3 yards per game) and last place in MAC rankings in scoring defense (38.9 points per game), rushing defense (257.7 yards per game), total defense (493.3 yards per game), opponents first downs (allowed 184, 29 more than any other team) and sacks (only five).

On the other hand, UB is second in the league in red-sone defense (inside your own 20-yard line). The Bulls are holding opponents to only 70.7 percent on 29-of-41, but 41 trips inside the 20-yard line is seven more than any team in the league. Up front, sophomore defensive tackle Rob Schroeder (6-4, 278) and junior college senior Sagan Atuatasi (6-3, 338-yes, 338) have moved into the starting lineup in the spring. Schroeder and Atuatasi have combined of 23 tackles and two and one-half tackles-for-loss. Behind them is recruited walk-on junior Casey Russell (6-0, 266), who has nine tackle, eight solo, and one and one-half tackles-for-loss this year.

At defensive end, sophomore Phil Jacques (6-2, 240) has been called "UB's steadiest defensive lineman over the last two seasons," by coach Hofher. He has 46 tackles over one and one-half seasons. At the other end, sophomore Aaron Sanders (6-1, 233) has started the last four games in place of senior Demetrius Austrum (6-2, 236), who is the cousin of the Philadelphia Eagles' Cory Simon. Austrum has 18 tackles this year.

Senior captain, for the second year in a row, Lamar Wilcher (6-2, 242) leads the linebackers, who lost only one player from 2002 who played. Returning on the outside are sophomore Bryan Cummings (6-3, 228), who has 45 tackles, 26 solos and a sack; junior Rodney Morris (5-10, 218), who has 20 tackles, 12 solos; and Rich Saunders (5-11, 253), a sophomore who plays both outside or in the middle. Saunders has 15 tackles, 13 solos, and had seven tackles against UCF in the 19-10 Bulls loss.

"At the safety area," said Hofher in the pre-season, "we have the developement of...or the proof of, three solid safeties. We have candidates at corner." Emerging from those "candidates" were two red-shirt freshmen at the starting corners. Delando Bradford (5-8, 184) has started every game and is second on the team with 34 solo tackles (40 total). He had seven solos against Miami last week and forced a fumble. Starting at corner since game four against UConn, Michael Arroyo (6-0, 171) picked up nine tackles against the Huskies and has 14 more since. The man he replaced, also a re-shirt freshman, is Brandon Smith (5-10, 177), who has 27 tackles on the year in three starts and seven games played. The safeties include senior free safety Mark Graham (6-0, 191), who leads the team in tackles (56), tackles-for-loss (3.5, for minus 15 yards) and has the only interception by the Bulls this season. Splitting time at strong safety is both sophomore Gemara Williams (5-8, 182), who is second on the team in tackles with 49, and junior J.J. Gibson (5-9, 186), who has 35 tackles and became the first freshman to record 100 tackles in 2001 in UB Division I history (A and AA).

The specialists have been special for the Bulls. Senior place kicker Dallas Pelz (6-0, 185) is nearly perfect: seven-of-seven on extra-points and 2-of-3 on field goals, with a long of 43 yards. The punter is junior Dominic Milano (5-10, 171) who has 52 punts for 1,972 yards, an average of 37.9 per punt. He has put 15 punts inside the 20-yard line and has a long of 57 yards. UB's net is last in the MAC, however, at 27 yards per kick.

Kickoff returns have seen time split between sophomore runnning backs Aaron Leeper (5-10, 194) and Dave Dawson (5-8, 183) who have combined for 26 returns and a 21.7 yards per return average. The overall average of 20.1 per retunr in third in MAC. Junior wide receiver Matt Knueven (6-1, 205) returns punts but does not get many chances: only nine returns in seven games, with an average of 5.1 per return, dead last in the MAC.

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