This week’s opponent blog post features the weekly Q&A with an opposing beat writer. Rachel Lenzi, the college and high school sports enterprise reporter for The Buffalo News, stops by to answer five questions about Buffalo. For her coverage of the Bulls, follow her on Twitter @rachelmlenzi.
Now onto the Q&A:
N&A: What were the biggest things you learned about this season's Buffalo team after the first two weeks against an FCS program (Robert Morris) and Power 5 juggernaut (Penn State)?
RL: Against Robert Morris, the Bulls reiterated that they can run the ball, and the running-back tandem of Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks is already more productive than it was at this point in 2018. While Matt Myers made his debut at quarterback against an FCS team, he showed why he was the right choice to start, over a redshirt sophomore (Kyle Vantrease) and a redshirt junior (Dominic Johnson). He made the right decisions. He picked his spots when he had to throw. He utilized his mobility and his size. He kept his cool.
Against Penn State, UB showed it could keep up with one of the nation's top programs ... for one half. The Bulls made too many mistakes in the second half; UB coach Lance Leipold pointed to assignment errors, poor pursuit angles and being overwhelmed by Penn State's explosiveness, and smart and skilled teams (not just Penn State) are going to capitalize on the mistakes their opponents make.
N&A: Matt Myers was the first freshman to start at quarterback for Buffalo in a season opener in nearly 30 years. What is your assessment of his first two performances and how much more room does he have to grow in this offense?
RL: Myers is playing with much more poise than you'd expect from a redshirt freshman. He is a dual-threat quarterback but the coaches value Myers for his decision-making and his ability to not overreact. Myers played in one series as a true freshman last year and didn't throw a pass in UB's regular-season finale last November at Bowling Green, but he's benefited from playing in a system in high school that incorporated college-level schemes into its offense, from working with private quarterbacks coaches and from understanding the run-pass option.
Myers has also done well in working with inexperienced wide receivers. Antonio Nunn has 113 yards on five catches, which is more than three-fourths of the yardage he had last season (and he's UB's top returning receiver), though UB's receivers could take a hit if tight end Zac Lefebvre isn't available this week. But long-term, Myers has a lot of upside that will benefit the Bulls down the road.
N&A: Did we see the potential for a stingy defense in the first half against Penn State that can possibly be sustained for a full 60 minutes?
RL: Some would argue UB overachieved against Penn State. Others, including the Bulls, say they saw exactly what they are capable of, and this team has the ability to play consistently, offensively and defensively. Nobody expected UB to lead Penn State at the half, but at some point, Penn State was going to flip the switch and take control. That happened early in the third quarter, when Penn State's John Reid intercepted Myers' pass on third-and-six from the UB 31-yard-line, intended for Nunn. In the next three series, Penn State scored three touchdowns on nine plays, and UB's defense gave up four plays of at least 19 yards in that sequence. Those long-yardage plays hurt the Bulls.
The Bulls aren't going to see this kind of competition again this season, but what UB has to do is find out how to respond when they face one sequence that could change the game. And they can't let one play change the game. UB has to dictate the game.
N&A: How unique of a situation is Kyle Vantrease in as the backup quarterback and now the starting punter after Evan Finegan's horrific injury?
RL: UB special teams coordinator Taiwo Onatolu can't name an FBS quarterback who also doubles as his team's punter. Vantrease was competing to be UB's starting quarterback a month ago, and moving to punter is going to be a work-in-progress for him. Vantrease is taking the move in stride, even though he hasn't punted since he was a high school senior in 2016, but UB only has one other punter listed on its roster besides Finegan: Jackson Baltar, a true freshman who has handled three kickoffs in UB's first two games.
Vantrease's move to punter also has a few people wondering if UB will resort to any trick plays when he enters the game to punt.
N&A: You wrote about the team rallying around Finegan earlier in the week. How have the Bulls come together following the setback to a punter who was on the Ray Guy Award watch list?
RL: Finegan returned to campus Tuesday and met with the team Wednesday morning, for the first time since his leg was broken Saturday night. He definitely gave the team an emotional lift, and some of the players I spoke with are using what Finegan has gone through to motivate themselves and each other. Finegan has a long recovery ahead of him — he broke both bones in his lower leg and had a metal rod put in his leg to stabilize the tibia (the larger bone in the shin) — and hopes to return to the Bulls for next season.