In no particular order, here are 10 things that I learned from the Bulls season opening 45-23 loss in Athens, Georgia.
- There’s a whole new outlook on the Bulls season after playing so well on the road. If anyone doubts the success of Saturday’s game, go back and listen to the booing from the Georgia fans as the Bulls took control of the game in the second quarter. The fans were sweating for more reasons than just the heat, at halftime, they knew an upset could be in the making. A tough schedule was a big reason that just a week ago, things looked bleak for the chance of a winning season. But, after competing well on the road suddenly some of those games most had chalked up as losses are now in play for wins. UConn looked anything but dominant in their win over UMass and Pittsburgh lost to Youngstown State 31-17 at home. Remember that the Bulls dropped two open touchdowns against Pitt and UConn had two long plays beat them at home last season. If the Bulls can match or improve the performance from last Saturday, they will be more than in those two games, not to mention the conference match-ups.
- Alex Zordich won the starting job and looked the part at Georgia. He was able to show his decision making has greatly improved since he was a starter his freshman year with no turnovers against an aggressive defense and also the willingness to slide when scrambling. His freshman season was cut short after sustaining an injury aggressively scrambling for extra yards. There were limitations to his game and some of the longer throws weren’t pretty but overall it was a solid game in a tough environment.
- Make no mistake about it, this team likes to and absolutely needs to run the football.
The Bodozer Branden “Bo” Oliver went over 100 yards and as a team the Bulls put up 199 yards against a defense that averaged giving up only 100 yards a game on the ground last season. This should not be a drop back passing team. Even down 24-6 in the first half, the Bulls stayed consistent with the run and it payed off in the 2nd quarter when they scored 10 straight to end the first half. The run was effective and set up the play action pass that took pressure off of Zordich. When the Bulls got away from that strategy in the 3rd quarter, the offense sputtered and couldn’t get going. Down the line if we see the Bulls throwing 25+ times there’s a high probability that things aren’t going well.
- New defensive co-ordinator Lou Tepper had his team ready to play and even though the scoreboard had a 45 on it for the other team, the defense played well. Tepper rolled out 9 different defensive looks on the first nine defensive plays and kept the Bulldogs thinking. They registered three sacks with their best player and pass rusher, Khalil Mack, suspended for the game. The secondary had some lapses but in the coming games, you have to think that the QB’s won’t have as much time to try and expose those areas with Mack coming off the edge.
- Now I really understand the advantage the Bulldogs have playing at home in Athens. 93,000 fans, a classic site in Sanford Stadium, gigantic student section, a loud band, sweltering heat, great athletes and it’s just plain difficult to get there to face all of that. Athens lays roughly an hour and 45 minutes east of Atlanta, so the amount of time spent for two round trips on a bus (one for a walk through on Friday, then the game on Saturday) is draining.
- RB James Potts was one of the most highly regarded recruits in UB’s history and we saw him for the first time against the Bulldogs. He saw limited time, but showed enough that I’m looking forward to seeing more. Bo Oliver is the starter & doesn’t want to come out, but Potts as a change of pace back or both in the backfield at the same time is a dangerous weapon for Coach Quinn.
- Special teams is still an issue with this team. It cost them dearly last year and really put them in a tough spot in Athens. Another missed extra point, a blocked punt and a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown isn’t going to cut it against anyone, especially on the road against an SEC team. All told, special teams cost the Bulls 11 points. I’m not saying without those points that UB gets the win, but I sure would’ve liked to enter the 4th quarter at 28-17 to find out.
- With the negatives out of the way for special teams, I do want to say that Cordero Dixon and James Potts have seemed to solve the problems from the end of last season in the return game. Dixon was shot out of a cannon late in the second quarter to get the Bulls to mid-field and set up a field goal to end the half. If you followed the Bulls last season you’ll know that no muffs, no drops, no fumbles in the return game is a big improvement.
- The tight ends have emerged from their hibernation and are again a factor in the Buffalo offense. Alex Dennison and Jimmy Gordon both had solid games not only blocking but also giving Zordich an outlet to throw to. After being invisible last year, the tight ends combined to almost top their production from the 2011 season in one game. With the inexperience at the wide receiver spots, it’ll be important that the tight ends continue to evolve and be a key part of the offense this year.
- Alex Neutz catches just about everything thrown in his direction. He ran a good route and made a nice play to get in the end zone in the first half, then made a ridiculous catch over the top of a defender that looked impossible. The latter was wiped out by a penalty but should not be forgotten. It was the type of acrobatic play that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing him make and his performance Saturday should be a reminder of just what the Bulls lost down the stretch last season when he was injured.
Next UB Bulls Game – Saturday, September 8th – UB Stadium – 6pm – vs. Morgan State Bears