There is no time like the present and for Rutgers football, Saturday’s game against Buffalo (3-0) is a chance to move past last week’s disastrous loss to Kansas. After giving up 55 points to the Jayhawks, it’s fair to be concerned about the Buffalo offense, which is more talented. The Bulls also own wins over Temple and Eastern Michigan, two programs that beat Big Ten teams, Maryland and Purdue, respectively. As of noon on Friday, Rutgers is a 6-point home underdog to Buffalo.
To find out more about Saturday’s opponent, I was fortunate to speak with Tim Riordan of SB Nation’s Buffalo site, Bull Run. Let’s kick things off here.
AB: What were expectations for Buffalo this season and how have they performed so far? How good of a job has head coach Lance Leipold in his tenure so far and is the recent success sustainable for this program?
TR: Coming into the season we mostly expected 6-9 wins and a run at the MAC East, two big hurdles we saw were Rutgers and Temple. I don’t think we expected Temple to start the season so slow, and while we knew Rutgers was going to struggle this season we thought they were likely a bowl team out of the Big 10.
Buffalo has lived up to expectations and right now I’d say 6-9 has shifted to a 8-10 win season. Heck, if we get by Army and Toledo this team has the potential to win out.
I’m very happy where Lance has this team, but I don’t know if it’s because he has finally built the team he wants or if he caught lightning in a bottle with Tyree Jackson and Anthony Johnson.
AB: Quarterback Tyree Jackson has been outstanding this season, completing 65% of his passes and throwing 12 touchdown’s to just 1 interception. What has been the key to his success, as well as his strengths and weaknesses?
TR: Tyree went from a run first quarterback to a great passer after coming back from an injury last season. He’s still fast and mobile but I think the time he was healing, and watching his backup throw all over defenses, taught him to be a more complete quarterback.
Jackson’s strengths are his physical gifts, 6-7 with a rocket for an arm, and now his maturity. Jackson will move around in the pocket as needed to extend plays and work though his progressions. With teams zeroing in on Anthony Johnson he’s had to go to the second and third receivers pretty often.
If he has a weakness it’s occasionally looking down his receiver.
AB: Receiver Anthony Johnson was named a preseason All-American and having a great season so far, but fellow wideout K.J. Osborn actually has better stats right now. What are their similarities and differences, as well as how do they typically set up at the line of scrimmage? Opposite sides or do they load up on one side at times?
TR: The two are usually on opposite sides of the field and physically play pretty much the same game. Johnson is a bit tougher to bring down and has displayed a better set of hands but Osborn is good enough to stand in his own right as a great receiver.
Part of the difference in stats is that Johnson missed most of the Temple game because he was ill, and had lost a friend the night before. It also helps Osborn that defenses seem to key on Johnson.
AB: The defense of Buffalo has generated a lot of pressure so far. What has been the key to their success, as well as how good has linebacker Khalil Hodge been in his senior season?
TR: Hodge has been great, but I think the big difference this year is that the defensive end Chuck Harris has come out of nowhere to be a guy who might be drafted (if he keeps it up at this level).
UB is quick and swarms to the ball, they have given up some big plays because of it but on balance it works out.
AB: How has special teams play been so far? How much confidence is there in kicker Adam Mitcheson, who has already missed two PAT’s this season, despite making a 46 yard field goal in his lone attempt?
TR: I don’t know what the deal with Mitcheson is right now. He was great in his first two seasons at UB but has fallen off a bit to the point that we kind of expect every PAT to be a wild ride. That being said I don’t like the call Leipold made last week to go for it on fourth late in the game, a FG would have put EMU down 17 and sealed the win.
Our special teams is an area of concern. Temple scored on a blocked punt, and you guys are good at blocking punts and kids.
Overall though, aside from place kicking, they are not playing that bad. Coverages are ok and returns are respectable.
AB: What is your prediction for the game?
TR: I’m thinking the spread is solid... UB 27- RU 20
Thanks to Tim for giving us great insight on Buffalo football ahead of tomorrow’s game. To read more on this week’s opponent, visit Bull Run, which provides great coverage on Buffalo sports. To read my answers to Tim’s questions on Rutgers football, click here.