Each week, Voice of Bulls Football Paul Peck will preview the upcoming game.
Buffalo (1-0) vs. Penn State (0-1)
For the fourth time in the last five years, the Bulls will play in one of the "Cathedrals" of college football. Tennessee's Neyland Stadium, Georgia's Sanford Stadium, Ohio State's Ohio Stadium and Saturday, Penn State's Beaver Stadium. What a thrill for the Bulls players. That's exactly how they look at this chance to perform in front of over 107,000 people. While you might think that could be intimidating, it's exactly the opposite. Bulls' cornerback Boise Ross is one of eight Pennsylvania natives on the roster. He's attended games at Beaver Stadium, and he can't wait to trot out onto a field he dreamed of playing on. This is the UB players' chance to play at the highest level in front of a big crowd. They can't wait.
Bullseye on: Buffalo Offense
Joe Licata looked cool, calm and collected in running the new Bulls offense against Albany. He completed a career-high 77 percent of his passes, and connected with eight different receivers. The control that this offense gives to the quarterback is a perfect match for a student of the game like Licata.
Two of those targets, for a combined nine catches, were tight ends Matt Weiser and Mason Schreck. Last year, the two combined for only 25 catches. They're a third of the way there after only one game. Having big, athletic targets like Weiser and Schreck is a huge advantage and should create mismatches all year long. Five different wide receivers caught passes, as the Bulls used numerous combinations. Newcomer Collin Lisa had the biggest catch of the game, a 56-yard bomb down the middle of the field. But he also showed off the slot receiver skills we had seen in the preseason practices. As he gets more comfortable with the offense and Licata, look for him to be an even bigger weapon. True freshman Brandon Smiley was a regular in the receiver rotation.
The Bulls 1-2 punch at running back isn't just their uniform numbers. Anthone Taylor (#1) and Jordan Johnson (#2) combined for 173 yards rushing and 3 TD. Taylor is just 74 yards away from joining James Starks and Branden Oliver as the only 2,000 yard rushers in UB history. The challenge for them this week is running against Penn State defensive tackles Austin Johnson (323 lbs.) and Anthony Zettel (284 lbs.). Both are outstanding. Zettel's quickness and tenacity led to 17 tackles for loss last year. The Nittany Lions will be without starting middle linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White, who was injured against Temple. Defensive end Carl Nassib, who had 10 tackles against the Owls, is the brother of NY Giants quarterback Ryan Nassib.
Bullseye on: Buffalo Defense
Nine Bulls on defense made their collegiate debut in the Albany game. That included freshman safety Brandon Stanback, who was the first true frosh to start the season opener since Dillon Guy in 2011. He's the first safety to do that since Davonte Shannon started his first game (and every one from then on) in 2007. Defensive Coordinator Brian Borland used a lot of players on defense. There was constant rotations, especially on the defensive line. At some points in the middle of a series, the entire front four would swap out. Freshman D-lineman Charles Harris and Justin Brandon certainly looked ready for college football. Both made some impressive plays.
Middle linebacker Nick Gilbo just makes things happen. That goes all the way back to the previously mentioned Ohio State game in 2013. He had five tackles and his second career interception in his first career start. Speaking of making plays, how about the stat line for Okezie Alozie: 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 forced fumble. As expected, cornerbacks Boise Ross and Marqus Baker are calming influences in the secondary. No matter how young the rest of the defense may be, having two veteran cornerbacks will go a long way towards the unit growing up fast. The Bulls defense gave up only three plays of 20 yards against the Great Danes.
Penn State's offense rides on the arm of QB Christian Hackenberg. One of the nation's top recruits, he has been a polarizing figure in Happy Valley. He's got NFL size (6-4, 228 pounds) and an NFL arm. But his production has been inconsistent. Last year, he threw 12 TD passes and 15 interceptions. But he also capped off the season with a 377 yard, 4 TD performance in the Pinstripe Bowl. His career completion percentage is just 57 percent, with 32 TD and 26 interceptions. In eight of his last 14 games, he's thrown for less than 200 yards.
Sacks have been a big problem for Hackenberg and the PSU offense. Last year, they gave up 44 sacks. In the opener against Temple, Hackenberg was brought down 10 times. The offensive line may see some changes. Head Coach James Franklin hinted at that based on the performance in the opener.
The Nittany Lions have talented receivers, including 2014 Big Ten leader DaeSean Hamilton. WNY football fans will recognize running back Akeel Lynch. The St. Francis grad was New York State's HS Player of the Year in 2011.
Bullseye on: Offensive Alacrity
As a Top 100 ranked university, a UB education means all grads will know the definition of "alacrity." It's a quick readiness to do something. Against Albany, the Bulls showed an alacrity to score points. The pace of the offense was one of the most impressive parts of the win. At various points, without hint or warning, the Bulls moved to a super-quick pace that had the Danes on their heels. They even had to call timeout once just to slow down the Bulls. Offensive Coordinator Andy Kotelnicki makes those decisions, and uses Licata to pull the trigger on the pacing. It is a huge weapon that will be fun to watch. Rarely do you see that done in the middle of a series. That will prevent the defense from making substitutions and should present some mismatches for the Buffalo offense.
Please join me, color analyst Jim Kubiak, sideline reporter Scott Wilson, game host Brad Riter and postgame host Bob Gaughan for the broadcast on the Bulls Football Network. Our pregame show starts at 11:00am. You can hear it in Buffalo on ESPN 1520 (www.espn1520.com), in Rochester on Sports 1280 WHTK (www.whtk.com) & in New York City on 570 WMCA (www.wmca.com).