As BC prepares for this weekend’s matchup with the Bulls of Buffalo, we got the opportunity to speak with Matt Gritzmacher editor of Bull Run, an SBNation blog dedicated to all things Buffalo (@UBBullrun).
BCI: BC relies on the run, Buffalo has struggled against the run. Where has Buffalo been successful on defense, and who are some names to look for?
Bullrun: UB is almost certainly stronger against the run than against the pass. I won't get much further into this answer without acknowledging that they've been plenty bad against the run anyway, but they have faced three run-heavy offenses in FCS Albany, Nevada, and Army, who on the season are running on 72%, 60%, and 90%, respectively. Against the Black Knights -- really the only game I want to brag about -- they succeeded in the second half by plugging up the middle of the field time and time again despite a predictably lopsided time of possession.
Two corollaries to that: (1) UB looks good against the pass, but hasn't been. Nevada didn't need to pass to run up points, and Army doesn't pass, but Albany could have had a more comfortable win had their quarterback been more accurate on deep throws when FCS receivers got behind Buffalo corners. (2) Size matchups are a perennial concern when punching up a level, especially for midmajors who haven't recruited like Northern Illinois, Toledo, or Western Michigan. I'm thinking of Central Michigan-BC on Halloween 2009. The Chippewas finished the season 12-2 and ranked, but were never a threat in a 31-10 loss. UB could do everything right by their game plan, and just get bowled over by Hilliman two dozen times.
Anyway, names. Khalil Hodge is a JUCO transfer who's stepped into the middle linebacker spot. He's got 33 tackles in the last two games and is the Bulls' best matchup size-wise when punching up. You'll also hear a lot from fellow linebacker Jarrett Franklin. In the defensive backfield, DB Boise Ross came into the season looking like UB's best shot at a draft pick, but has only played in five quarters so far this year. He's like a light version of Northern Illinois' Shawun Lurry who you all saw last year.
One thing I don't know that you'll see much of is anyone in the BC backfield. UB's got only 3 sacks and 12 TFL on the year despite facing opponents with somewhat predictable schemes or size disadvantages.
BCI: It seems like it's been an up and down season so far for the Bulls. What are the expectations for this season and have they lived up to them so far?
Bull Run: Mostly down, and it remains to be seen if the Army win spurs the team to where we expected them to be. Most fans were thinking 5-7, with 6-6 more likely than 4-8, this year, but listless losses to Albany and Nevada changed that. That said, but for a bad-luck fumble late, redshirt-freshman QB Tyree Jackson, who you ask about below, might have beaten Albany and we'd've chalked the close game to season-opening jitters.
More specific concerns have definitely not lived up to expectations: the big-play front seven of last year has been meek despite little turnover; offensive playcalling has been questionable; Boise Ross has been hit with two suspensions, one for academic issues (think Raji) and the other a bogus targeting call; and the quarterback horse race between Jackson and Iowa State grad transfer Grant Rohach appears to have only wasted valuable time in building offensive chemistry.
BCI: Tyree Jackson seems to be a dual threat QB. What are his strengths and limitations as a QB?
Bull Run: Limitations: We (and the coaching staff) spent the summer unsure whether he'd be the starter over Rohach, a line of succession from Joe Licata more arbitrary than that of the Jerry York "Trust" banner. It took one quarter to answer that question, so obviously so that it's baffling it wasn't clear before.
More than anything else, Jackson is young and in his first few games of college ball. He's surrounded by a similarly inexperienced offense and has been hampered a bit by playcalling that doesn't always give him a chance to string together a few easy completions and find a rhythm. Given that he can run effectively, there have been times where he's tried to take a drive over himself. They've been some of our more successful drives of the season, but it's not what you want in an offense.
Strengths: He's a physical marvel for a MAC quarterback, at 6-7, 245. He's got a big arm, can squeeze passes into tight windows, and does a good job even with tough throws of minimizing the risk of interceptions -- his only so far came on a tipped/dropped pass against Army.
BCI: Who are some of the other weapons that the Bulls possess?
Bull Run: It's tough to say, because many of the guys we would have said pre-season aren't getting the ball. Senior WR Marcus McGill should have a primary role in the offense and has been barely looked at in favor of Malcolm Robinson and Kamathi Holsey, who dropped a few against Army. TE Mason Schreck should be UB's top receiving threat, and maybe he is now after a pivotal fourth quarter in the Army comeback.
Running the ball, it's a Pino's-vs-Presto's (RIP) situation as senior Jordan Johnson hasn't been allowed to get into a rhythm in favor more snaps for Johnathan Hawkins, but Buffalo's O-line turnover from last year and BC's front seven strength is significant enough that it's hard to see either influencing the game much unless BC gets lax.
BCI: Ok, it's a weekend of Buffalo teams in Boston. Who has a better chance of pulling off the upset, the Bills or Bulls? And how do you see Saturday's game shaking up
Bull Run: I think the teams are similarly overmatched, but I'll go with the Bills just for the "any given Sunday" aspect and the physically more level playing field. Of course, that depends on having a coach that gives a crap about 80+ penalty yards a game, and Rex doesn't seem to, so yea. At least it looks like they'll shoot Garoppolo up so we can lose to a quarterback and not Edelman.
As for this game, BC's defense doesn't look quite as good as I thought preseason, even accounting for Don Brown's departure, and if Wagner can score a touchdown, we might, too. 29-10 BC, because we know there's going to be a missed kick in this game, and I might as well predict it from the Eagles.
BCI: Bonus question: Are the buffalo wings at Anchor really as good as I've heard?
Bull Run: Anchor Bar deserves credit for the original, and for sticking to the original recipe (Frank's and butter), but they've been eclipsed by many. The general consensus for best is now Duff's, which has a few locations. If you're ever downtown and looking, Gabriel's Gate doesn't disappoint, and closer to the Ralph for Bills games The Bar Bill Tavern enjoys high regard.
Truth be told, wings are hard to mess up in Western New York, and if you're ever in town a standard order from the neighborhood mom-and-pop pizza place is better than most anything you'll find anywhere else.