UB set to host Miami (OH) on national stage

The Bulls look for win No. 8 and first place in the MAC East Division on ESPN2

Jon Simon
October 29, 2018 - 6:35 pm

Photo: Mike DiNovo - USA TODAY Sports

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The Buffalo Bills won’t be the only football team from Western New York playing on an ESPN network this week. The UB Bulls (7-1, 4-0) will take on division rival Miami (OH) on Tuesday night on ESPN 2, just one day after the Bills face the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.

The matchup with the Red Hawks (3-5, 3-1) will be an important one for UB. While the Bulls boast a much better overall record this season than their counterparts, Miami is 3-1 in the conference and are second in the MAC East Division, right behind UB.

Miami’s record is below .500, but their placement in the MAC standings shows they’re a competitive team. Similar to UB, the Red Hawks played a tough non-conference schedule; except Miami lost all three of their non-MAC contests (Marshall, Cincinnati, @ Minnesota) and started the season in a 0-3 hole.

“They’re a good football team and they played a very challenging non-conference schedule,” Bulls head coach Lance Leipold said at his press conference on Thursday. “They didn’t just play good football teams but good rivalry games with intensity. There are teams in our conference that played extremely challenging non-conference schedules and Miami would be right up at the top of that list.”

After a hard-fought 31-17 win in Toledo last Saturday, the Bulls had an extra few days to prepare for the Tuesday night game in Oxford, Ohio. Having weeknight games isn’t something new for this group, and coach Leipold believes the long week came just at the right time.

“Luckily we’ve had a chance to go through this a few times now; but this was really our first brake of the whole season,” Leipold said. “We’ve gone straight through really since the beginning of August, so this group needed some days away. Two years ago we had this [longer break] the second week of the season and that’s not a good time in my estimation. It’s nice to get to this point in the season and give our guys three days off. If you can stay healthy up to this point and moving forward, it’s kind of the luck of the draw.”

Despite the longer break between games, the Bulls haven’t lost focus. UB isn’t only playing for soul possession of first place in the MAC East Division; they want to set the tone for the remaining four games of the season.

“I expect it to be a really good football game,” Leipold said. “Last year we went down there and didn’t play really well. We were kind of licking our wounds after back-to-back losses and we had lost our second quarterback at that time and had to start a true freshman. I think with this game we’re at a point where we can compete against a team like this.”

The return of Anthony Johnson gave the Bulls a huge boost in their win over Toledo. After being limited for a few weeks with a leg injury, the receiver seemed to be back to 100-percent last week. Johnson caught four passes for 83 yards and scored two touchdowns, showing his speed and cutting ability with a catch and run on the second score.

“It became apparent [Johnson was 100-percent healthy] to us maybe last Tuesday,” Leipold said. “He started running around in practice like he used to run around and we all looked at each other and said ‘let’s get to Saturday soon because he’s starting to play like he used to.’ I think the second touchdown with the catch and the run started to show us a few things. I think he made a heck of a catch on the first touchdown. That was a big boost to our team. He’s battled through a lot this year and for his sake it’s time for him to go play some healthy football.”

Bulls quarterback Tyree Jackson is certainly happy to have his top target back in the lineup. While Jackson still threw for 326 yards last Saturday, the junior struggled against Toledo. Jackson threw three interceptions and was sacked five times in the game. Prior to the Toledo game, Jackson was sacked just once all season.

The Bulls' offensive line will need to have a bounce back game against Miami, the Red Hawks defense is a solid group and is in the top half of the MAC in almost every defensive category.

“Defensively they’ve moved some guys around but [Brad] Koenig, the linebacker, I know we have a good linebacker here and we’ve talked about others but man, he’s put some games together in this conference now that have been just remarkable,” Leipold said. “They use him in a couple of different spots based on injury, but he is a really good football player. They have length in the defensive line as well. They’re confident they can get to the quarterback and get their hands up.”

The Miami front-seven does a good job getting to opposing quarterbacks, but they also defend well against the run. The Red Hawks are fourth in the MAC in rushing defense, they should be a good test for the young freshman duo of Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks in UB’s backfield.

Marks and Patterson have established themselves as a solid one-two punch over the last few weeks. Patterson was the man with the hot hand against Toledo, he rushed for 90 yards and scored two touchdowns, both in the fourth quarter.

“Jaret and James [Patterson] (Jaret’s twin brother) have both been remarkable since they’ve stepped on this campus,” Leipold said. “Not just as players but as people. Jaret had a hamstring injury in fall camp that really slowed him down for about two weeks so he missed a lot of reps, so it started off as a slower process for him. There was never much doubt leaving spring practice that he wasn’t going to be able to help our football team to some capacity.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulls head into Tuesday night with a lot of momentum. Despite having a tough first half against Toledo, the Bulls shut the Rockets out in the second half. The Bulls defense also has not allowed an opponent inside the red zone in the last two games.

Bulls linebacker Khalil Hodge was on WGR with Howard Simon this past Thursday and he said the UB defense has finally found their groove.

“We’re just meshing well at the right time,” Hodge said. “Our defensive backs are playing well and our defensive line is getting to the backfield. We’re trusting the game plan and really executing.”

Hodge will have another chance to move up in the UB record books on Tuesday night. The senior’s next tackle will be the 377th of his career, which will put him fourth all-time in program history. Hodge’s next tackle will also be his 100th of the year, where he’ll become the first player to record three straight 100-tackle seasons in UB history.

The team as whole can make some program history on Tuesday night. A win over Miami would give the Bulls eight victories on the season, which would match the most wins UB has had in a season since joining the FBS in 1999.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Hodge said. “We’re just trying to stay level headed and our goal is to go 1-0. With all the publicity and stuff like that, at the end of the day, with all the work we put in each week, we’re just trying to get a win.”

Kickoff on Tuesday night from UB Stadium is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. You can listen to the full game along with pre-game and post-game coverage on ESPN 1520.

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