UB goes for fifth win against the Chippewas

Bulls head to Central Michigan looking to get back to their winning ways

Jon Simon
October 05, 2018 - 1:20 pm

Photo: Noah K. Murray - USA TODAY Sports


The UB Bulls (4-1,1-0) are back on the road this weekend as they head to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan to take on Central Michigan (1-4, 0-1) in a Mid-American Conference showdown.

The Bulls dropped their first game of the season last weekend to Army, but will look to get back in the win column against the Chippewas and remain undefeated in the conference.

Including Saturday’s matchup with Central Michigan, the Bulls' seven remaining games are all against MAC teams. For a team like UB that has a legitimate chance to win their division and conference, every single one of these games matters.

The 4-0 start the Bulls had was a lot of fun and it brought a lot more attention to the team and program; but now that great start needs to be validated with a strong showing during conference play.

“I think it adds a little bit more to the intensity of what this group wants to accomplish,” Bulls head coach Lance Leipold said when talking about playing only MAC teams the rest of the way. “But it doesn’t change anything. We put the same value in all games and our approach stays the same. But, I think our guys know that it kind of changes what happens here on out and to attain the things we set out to do we have to make sure we’re playing our best football and we need to bounce back from last week.”

Despite being 1-4 and 0-1 in the MAC, Central Michigan is a competitive team. Last week, they fought to the end against No. 20 Michigan State, but fell a bit short to the Spartans 31-20.

“This whole thing is going to be a challenge against their defense,” Leipold said. “Two of [Central Michigan’s] five games were against top-25 teams and another game was against a power five school. They’re definitely going to be a challenge. It starts up front for them. I’m very impressed with their front four. Malik Fountain is one of the top linebackers in the conference. They have a secondary that plays with confidence and physicality on the outside as well. Patience and production is going to be very important for us.”

Malik Fountain, the Chippewa senior linebacker that Leipold mentioned is the key player on Central’s defense. Last season, Fountain led the team with 89 tackles and was All-MAC second team. He was also All-MAC first team in 2016.

The Bulls' offense had been clicking and firing on all cylinders before their momentum came to a screeching halt against Army. This week will be a nice test for quarterback Tyree Jackson and the rest of the offense to get back on track. One thing that Coach Leipold would like to see is better execution.

“We weren’t very good on third downs and we weren’t very good in short yardage situations (against Army) and those are areas we have to get better at,” Leipold said.

On the defensive side, the Bulls will need a confidence boost after giving up a season-high 42 points last weekend. While no other team has an offense like Army’s triple option, Central’s run game is their strong suit.

“Central has started to find what they’re identity is going to be,” Leipold said. “They use the quarterback in the run game, so assigned and sound football is going to be very important. They have an excellent running back in Jonathan Ward, they do a lot of different things with him and I’m sure they’re going to want to get the ball in his hands. We got tested on being assigned and sound last week and we’re going to have to be at our best to slow that down.”

Jonathan Ward is a player the Bulls defense will have to keep an eye on. The junior running back led the team in rushing yards, attempts and touchdowns last season and was named All-MAC second team.

Central’s quarterback, Tommy Lazzaro will need to be kept in check as well. The junior wasn’t the starter at the beginning of the season, but since their week three loss to Northern Illinois, Lazzaro has become the Chippewas’ No. 1 guy.

Lazzaro is a decent passer, but a very good runner. He’s tallied 11-plus rushing attempts in each of his three games and has recorded totals of 55, 44 and 32 yards on the ground.

“They do a lot of things with him,” Leipold said on Central’s quarterback. “In the drop back game if there isn’t something right away but there’s a lane, he’ll run and he’ll run for a first down. We have to read and react very well. Someone has to keep their eyes on the quarterback, especially when it comes to the passing situations. I think it’s going to be a good challenge all the way around.”

The man Lazzaro replaced, Tony Poljan could see some time on the field as well. Despite not being the starting quarterback anymore the red-shirt sophomore is still involved in the offense. Last week against Michigan State, he caught a 29-yard touchdown pass and caught a 23-yard pass against Maine the week prior.

The biggest question for UB going into Saturday will be the status of receiver Anthony Johnson. The senior wide out saw limited time on the field against Army, only playing a handful of snaps.

Leipold said earlier this week that Johnson is day-to-day with his leg injury and “that’s all he could say on that.”

If Johnson is limited again or can’t play at all, the Bulls will need some guys to step up on offense in his absence.

One receiver who has stepped up and broken out even before Johnson’s injury is K.J. Osborn. Last week, the junior had a 53-yard catch and run touchdown and led the Bulls with four catches. He also leads the team in catches this season with 23 and in receiving touchdowns with six.

This week, Osborn will have the opportunity to wear the No. 41 jersey in honor of Solomon Jackson, just giving him more motivation to go out and have another strong performance.

“He’s very valuable to this offense and in this program,” Leipold said when talking about Osborn. “I think everyone has seen the plays he’s made this year. He is a pretty complete wide receiver to my estimation.”

Kickoff on Saturday from Kelly Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. You can listen to the full game along with pre-game and post-game coverage on ESPN 1520.

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