Bulls ready to go bowling against Troy

UB looks to finish 2018 on a high note with a victory at the Dollar General Bowl

Jon Simon
December 20, 2018 - 6:25 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

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The UB Bulls football team (10-3, 7-1) will make the program’s third-ever appearance in a bowl game on Saturday night when they take on Troy University (9-3, 7-1) in the Dollar General Bowl from Mobile, Alabama. A Bulls win would not only give the program their first bowl game victory, but it can also cap off a season that has, arguably, been the best in the school’s history.

The Bulls have been fairly busy over the last few weeks. Along with prepping for the bowl game, players had to study for final exams and coaches had to go on recruiting trips and get ready for signing day. Everyone on the team had a lot going on.

In most years past, December wasn’t a busy time for UB football. But after missing out on a chance to play in a bowl game last season, despite being eligible, the Bulls aren’t complaining that they have one more game to play. In fact, they’re happy that the goal they set a year ago has been accomplished.

“It’s very rewarding,” Bulls senior defensive end Chuck Harris said at Monday’s press conference. “Last year hurt, but this year we came out shooting, and we’re still shooting. It’s all a journey. Stuff like that happens for a reason and I believe in that. This experience is very rewarding at the end of the day.”

Having a few weeks since their last game also gave the Bulls a lot of time to move past their disappointing loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship late last month.

“That was a disappointing loss,” UB head coach Lance Leipold said on Monday. “When we first came back, whether it was after the bowl announcement or the first weekend, I still think there was an opened wound. But the biggest thing we’ve talked about many times is that you can’t allow that one to affect the next one, and one thing this group has been outstanding at these last couple seasons is moving on to the next game with more motivation.”

The Bulls will head into Saturday night with plenty to play for and a lot of motivation. They’ve already set the school record for most wins in a single season, but getting that 11th win and the program’s first bowl game victory would be quite the accomplishment, especially when you take into account that this same program finished 2-10 two seasons ago.

UB will have their work cut out for them against Troy. The Trojans finished second in the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division, and have had some success outside of their conference as well. In Week 3 of this season, Troy won at Nebraska, 24-19. Last season, the Trojans defeated LSU in Death Valley, 24-21. Troy could also have, somewhat, of a “home-field advantage,” playing in their home state of Alabama. Mobile is just a little more than a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Troy’s campus.

“They’re a combination of a few teams that we’ve seen,” coach Leipold said of the Bulls’ opponent. “They have some similarities, and they put some unique spins on what they’ve done. They adapted after losing their starting quarterback halfway through the season as well. There are a lot different things you look into.”

Troy’s defense is the strongest group on their team. The Trojan’s were 28th in the nation in total defense and were top-five in their conference in every defensive category. They’re known best for their ability to take away the ball from opposing offenses. Troy’s 17 interceptions as a team this season ties them with Syracuse, California, Appalachian State and Florida International for fourth-most in the country.

“I think a lot of [Troy’s interceptions] come from the different looks they give you,” Leipold said. “There are some unique looks that they give you up front with their front seven. In its structure sometimes they can cause a lot of confusion, and with that confusion they can get hits on people and get to the quarterback and force hurry-throws and things like that. I think on the back end, their total team speed in the secondary and athleticism has helped them accomplish some of those things.”

The match-up between the UB offense and Troy’s defense will be an interesting one. The Bulls will need their offense to bounce back and have a big game after they went into a shell in the second half of the MAC Championship against NIU.

A few Bulls on the offensive side of the ball could reach some milestones on Saturday night. Quarterback Tyree Jackson is just 143 yards away from becoming the second player in school history to throw for 3,000 yards or more in a season.

Senior wide receiver Anthony Johnson needs just 56 reception yards to get to 1,000 for the year. Johnson would be just the third player in UB history to have two 1,000 yard receiving seasons in his career.

True freshman running back Jaret Patterson is just 54 rushing yards away from 1,000 for the season. Since Patterson has already set the school’s freshman rushing record this year, he’d be the first freshman in program history to run for 1,000 yards or more in a season.

“As we approached last Friday’s practice and as we geared towards game week, I think this group is getting excited,” Leipold said. “With the end of the semester there’s a lot of things mentally that this group is being challenged with and we’re all working through it for the first time. I think everyone has handled it very well to this point.”

Kickoff on Saturday is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST. The 2018 Dollar General Bowl will be televised on ESPN. You can also listen to the game, along with complete pre-game and post-game coverage on ESPN 1520. 

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