What the Bulls Bring.
When your free safety makes 89 tackles you know that your defense is in trouble.
They are or at least they were.
Last year Buffalo ranked 103rd in the nation in total defense but that was with a young defense. Maybe now they are a bit older and wiser. In fact, the Bulls return 10 starters, including 11 of the top 14 tacklers.
The star of the defense is senior linebacker Lamar Wilcher, 6-1, 240 who finished last season with 69 tackles. Wilcher is a sure handed tackler with excellent athleticism. He won't be alone. He'll be flanked by Rodney Morris, 5-10, 218 (62 tackles, 41 solos) and sophomore Bryan Cummings who started as a true freshman and had 54 tackles (39 solos), while adding six tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble despite missing almost three games with a shoulder separation. Cummings showed he could play the game with an eye catching 12 tackles performance against Minnesota. The linebacker corps will be a good one.
They'll have to be.
Buffalo will start with a four man front that has some talent but no depth at all. Sophomore defensive end Phil Jacques, 6-2, 240, started twelve games and totaled 36 tackles. Defensive tackle Rashad Clark, 6-3, 260 added 11 stops, Demetrius Austrum, 6-1, 236, added 29 tackles while defensive tackle Rob Schroeder, 6-4, 276, had 37.
That's the good news.
Anthony Adriano, 6-2, 240 is the only backup DL with experience since Bill Meholif, 6-3, 256 (28 tackles) went down with an ACL injury. He's out for the year. Only Schroeder and Andriano could be considered "sack" threats but actually no one on the squad is noted for their pass rush. You can bet that that'll put pressure on their secondary and it will.
The corners are Gemara Williams, 5-8, 182 and Delando Bradford, 5-8, 184. Williams had one interception last year (against Rutgers) Bradford was redshirted. They'll need help from senior tri-captain, Mark Graham, 6-1, 191, who had 89 tackles and 6 interceptions last season. Graham is strong and quick and can play the corner in a pinch. Junior, JJ Gibson, 5-9, 186, is a quick aggressive player who is excellent on run support. He fills out the secondary at strong safety. The Bulls went to the JUCO ranks to provide depth. Eddie Robinson, 6-0, 200 and Angel Baines, 6-2, 200 hope to provide some depth for Buffalo.
Dallas Pelz will be pressed by JUCO Dominic Milano for the punting duties. Both average in the 40 yard per punt range.
What to expect.
The Bulls don't match up well against Rutgers. They have an undersized secondary whose main skill is run support. Their corners will have problems against Rutgers' taller wideouts and their defensive line might not have the tools to pressure Ryan Hart. Hofher will do anything to avoid a shootout matching the Rutgers wideouts against the Buffalo secondary. Expect Buffalo to use their quick, aggressive linebacking corps to blitz early on key pass downs. If that works they'll go with it all evening, if it doesn't expect the Bulls to double cover Knight receivers and dare Rutgers to beat them with the run.
What the Knights must do.
The offensive line has to grow up fast. If the Rutgers, OL turns in a solid performance like they did in the spring game, the Buffalo game will be over early. If they turn in a performance like they did in the last public scrimmage, the game will be a nail biter. If they turn in a performance like they did last year against Villanova, drop me a line. I'll have a website for sale.
Honestly, the OL is the key. Not just for this game but for the whole season. However, this game gives Rutgers some matchups that they can exploit only if the OL performs well. It'll be touchy. The Bulls have quick, talented linebackers and the offensive line is going to have to "switch off" effectively on blitzes to pick those guys up coming in.
If they do, players like Shawn Tucker, Tres Moses and Marcus Daniels are going to be matched up "one on one" against smaller, slower defensive backs. And if that happens not only will this game be over early but you can expect August at Rutgers Stadium to be fun again.
Tomorrow: "Stat City: Statistical Matchups between the Knights and the Bulls."
Mike and the Big Dog's LLC