Non-Conference Preview - Part 2

This is the second in a five part preseason tour of the non-conference opponents. I'll continue with a look at the young Buffalo program. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.

 

BUFFALO BULLS PREVIEW 

In only its fourth season of Division I-A competition, Buffalo is measuring its progress in baby steps.  Second-year Head Coach Jim Hofher appears to have the program moving in the right direction.  The 3-win season 2001 season was Buffalo's best performance since moving to Division I-A.  The two road wins were also a I-A milestone.   Plus, Buffalo notched its first MAC shutout in its sole conference win.  Hofher is building for the future, having redshirted all but three incoming freshmen from the 2001 recruiting class.  Hofher's 2002 recruiting class is considered to be in the upper division of the Mid-American Conference.  However, Hofher is dipping heavily into the JUCO ranks for help and severe roster attrition (nine players lost since spring camp) is working forcing him to swim against the current.  Talent and depth are still two daunting issues that Hofher must address one block at a time.  Both the offense and defensive strategies, intended to camouflage deficient talent, may remind Rutgers fans of days past.  Here's a look at the young Bulls of Buffalo. 

 

OFFENSE

In the good news/bad news department, Buffalo returns 7 starters from a unit that was among the worst in the nation.  Hofher employs the trendy spread offense, usually featuring 3WRs plus a TE.  The Bulls pass more than they run.  Buffalo's 2001 offensive statistics are summarized below: 

  • 19 points per game (#101 of 115 in Division 1A)
  • 316 yards per game (#100 in Division 1A)
  • 114 rushing yards per game (#94 in Division 1A)
  • 203 passing yards per game (#73 in Division 1A)

Buffalo was supposed to return nearly intact a young but experienced OLine that gelled last season as the Bulls doubled their rushing output in the second half of the season.  Only two-year starting LG Tim Hedges departed.  The returning OL started every game – RS Jr RT Jeff Mills, RS So RG Erik Zeppuhar, RS So C Eric Weber, and RS Jr LT Andy Avery.  However, Avery does not appear on the summer camp roster and apparently is not on the team this season (though academics aren't an issues since Avery earned a 4.0 GPA last fall).  JUCO transfer Jr LT Alex Alvarez likely will replace the unexpectedly departed Avery.  RS Jr C Kevin Dunn will replace Hedges as the starting LG.  So OL Will Paris is another player listed on the spring depth chart but not on the summer roster.  RS So Dan Minocchi, RS Fr Mike Schifano, RS Fr Ted Howard, and RS Fr OL Zachary Love will be the backups.  A line that appeared to be young but experienced is suddenly a younger, less experienced, and less cohesive – with only six experienced players plus three RS Fr backups before Hofher is forced to play his true freshmen. 

Buffalo does return intact its receiving corps – leading receiver Sr TE Chad Bartoszek (42 receptions for 441 yards and 4 TDs), three-year starter Sr WR Andre Fort (23 receptions for 289 yards), leading gainer Sr WR Maurice Bradford (35 receptions for 498 yards and 2 TDs), and So 3WR Matt Knueven (35 receptions for 443 yards and 2 TDs).  RS Jr WR Dan Lindsey (17 receptions for 154 yards and one TD) is the top reserve while JUCO transfer Jr WR Azzaam Stallsworth, RS Fr WR Tim Dance, and RS Fr WR Gabe McClover likely will be the other backups.  Backup TE sixth-year Sr Marvin Brereton, who missed most of last season after suffering a knee injury on a savage hit from Rutgers' Shawn Seabrooks, returns as Bartoszek's backup. 

Buffalo lost two of its top three TBs in starter Derrick Gordon (113 carries for 486 yards and 3 TDs) and backup Albert Grundy (51 carries for 227 yards and 4 TDs).  However, leading rusher RS Jr TB Marquis Dwarte (141 carries for 546 yards and 6 TDs) returns.  As does starter RS Jr Tom Shaughnessy, a pure FB.  RS Fr TBs Aaron Leeper and Dave Dawson will backup Grundy.  RS Sr Jason Montanez will backup Shaughnessy.  Buffalo's improved rushing output coincided with an injury to a starting WR and the resulting increased use of the FB, though in a lead blocker role.  Whether this move reflects a permanent change in offensive philosophy or an emergency measure is uncertain. 

Buffalo lost three-year starter QB Joe Freedy (187 of 371 for 2,077 yards, 10 TDs, and 15 INTs).  Former backup QB RS So Randy Secky (15 of 35 for 153 yards) will replace Freedy.  RS Fr QB Jeff Powell will backup Secky.  The QB position is a major concern for Buffalo because an experienced QB could not proficiently execute the passing game in a passing offense.  How will a relatively inexperienced adapt?   

 

DEFENSE

Buffalo lost 7 starters from a squad that was the team's strength.  Hofher converted his defense to a 4-3 scheme upon his arrival.  In an effort to put more speed on the field, Hofher has moved LBs to DE, safeties to LB, and CBs to safety.  Buffalo's 2001 defensive statistics are summarized below: 

  • 26 points per game (#62 in Division 1A)
  • 357 yards per game (#45 in Division 1A)
  • 177 rushing yards per game (#77 in Division 1A)
  • 180 passing yards per game (#18 in Division 1A)

Buffalo returns nearly intact a secondary that was the strength of the defense – RS So SS J.J. Gibson (108 tackles and one INT), RS Sr CB Mike Lambert (47 tackles and 3 INTs), and RS Jr CB Mark Graham (55 tackles and 2 INTs).  The Bulls' secondary lost their leader, though – FS Craig Rolfs (77 tackles and 3 INTs).  Top reserve DB Youdlain Marcellus (28 tackles) also departed.  Hofher has switched Graham to FS.  RS Sr CB Dahnel Singfield, who missed last season after being dismissed for academics, returns and will likely start opposite Lambert.  Academic All-MAC backup DB So Darren Hicks is yet another player listed on the spring depth chart but not on the summer camp roster.  RS Fr Kevin Concepcion, RS Fr Gemara Williams, and true FR Ricky Bethel will be the backups.  The secondary likely will be pressed to match its performance last year because the front seven is inexperienced. 

Buffalo suffered heavy losses from its LB unit – leading tackler OLB Bobby Johnson (112 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and one INT) and two-year starter Duane Williams (64 tackles).  Top backup LB Brandon Jordan (28 tackles) also departed.  RS Jr MLB Lamar Wilcher (70 tackles) is the sole returning starter.  RS So OLB Rodney Morris (14 tackles) and former backup safety Sr Deonne McClelland (14 tackles) will likely start on either side of Wilcher.  RS Jr OLB Ryan Buttles (20 tackles), Sr OLB Jason Coley (13 tackles), and RS Fr MLB Ken Soltis will likely be the backups.  Both experience and depth are huge concerns in the LB corps. 

Buffalo's DLine was hit with a neutron bomb – the bodies that filled the depth chart are gone and the positions remain unfilled.  Well, almost.  DE Chris Shelley (56 tackles and 3.5 sacks), DE Jamie Guerra (42 tackles and 1.5 sacks), DT Bob Dzvonick (29 tackles), and DT Omari Jordan (24 tackles) have departed.  Furthermore, backup DTs So Craig Johnson (26 tackles), Jr Marcus Clarett (5 tackles), Jr Terrance Dawson (7 tackles), and So Terrance Miles each were listed on the spring depth chart but do not appear on the summer camp roster.  Former backup DEs Demetrius Austrum (10 tackles) and RS Fr Philip Jacques will likely replace Shelly and Guerra.  RS So DT Michael Nguti is the most "experienced" returning DT yet did not play last season.  JUCO transfer Jr DE Rashad Clark likely will be switched to DT, where he is expected to start.  RS Fr DT Rob Schroeder likely will start adjacent to Clark.  Nguti, RS Fr DT Bill Melihoff, So DE Anthony Andriano (25 tackles and one sack), and RS Fr DE Kirk Berry will be the backups.  Buffalo is desperate on the interior DLine, which is a house of cards that is young, inexperienced, and undersized.   

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Buffalo returns all specialists except its long snapper and holder.  RS Jr PK Dallas Pelz (12 of 18 FGAs and 19 of 21 XPAs) had a very good rookie campaign.  Sr P Scott McMahan (39 yards per punt) put nearly one-third of his kicks inside the 20-yard line.  Sr WR Andre Ford will again return both punts (10 yards per return) and kickoffs (20 yards per return).   

 

SCHEDULE

Buffalo has a full 12 game schedule with 6 home games.  The Bulls will play 8 conference games.  Rutgers will not be Buffalo's most formidable non-conference opponent – that distinction belongs to Minnesota.  The MAC coaches and media have picked Buffalo to finish last in the seven-team Eastern Division.  A team that relied so heavily upon its defense will struggle with a rebuilt defense and rookie QB.  I predict the Bulls will finish 3-9 (1-7).  The 2001 Buffalo team considerably closed the gap with Rutgers after a 55-0 loss in 2000.  However, I think that Buffalo has slipped relative to Rutgers.  The Scarlet Knights are far superior at the line of scrimmage and the Buffalo offense will wilt in the face of defensive pressure on a young, inexperienced QB.   

 

August 29

Lehigh

September 7

@ Rutgers

September 14

Connecticut

September 21

@ Minnesota

September 28

@ Ohio

October 5

Western Michigan

October 12

@ Marshall

October 19

Miami (OH)

October 26

Kent State

November 9

Central Florida

November 16

@ Akron

November 23

@ Ball State

 

Coming Next:  Non-Conference Preview, Part 3.  I'll continue my pre-season tour of the non-conference schedule with a look at Week 3 opponent – redesigned Army.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits. 

Please send any comments to bump86@earthlink.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.


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