Nebraska is only weeks away from opening fall camp for the new year, and as the clock ticks closer to the 2021 season, we’re giving brief looks at each opponent on the schedule for the Huskers. Illinois went first because they’ll play the Huskers first (only felt right), so next is Buffalo. Sorry Fordham.
The Boring Info
Time: This game is set for a 2:30 p.m. CT kickoff on BTN on Sept. 11. This weekend is loaded with fun non-con day games—Oregon-Ohio State, A&M-Colorado, Iowa-Iowa State, Cal-TCU—and with Lance Leipold now calling the 785 home, Nebraska is probably flying under the radar here unless something wacky happens.
Line: Not out yet. ESPN’s FPI gives NU a 68.5% chance to win. Bill Connelly’s SP+ projections for the preseason would have Nebraska as a 16-point favorite on a neutral field.
Records: Buffalo went 6-1 last season, with the lone loss coming against Ball State by 10 points. It beat Marshall 17-10 in the Camellia Bowl on Christmas Day.
Series history: These two teams have never met in their program history. In total, the Bulls have only faced Big Ten teams 17 times. They own a 3-14 record in those games, with two wins against Rutgers in seven tries, one win against Penn State in four games, and losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan, and Iowa.
What This One Means
The Huskers’ home tilt against Buffalo should serve as a quality insight into the mental makeup of this year’s squad.
If Nebraska opens its season with a win against Illinois, it’ll almost assuredly be 2-0 heading into this matchup with the Bulls. What will we see? A team looking ahead to the following weekend’s trip to Norman, Oklahoma? A team determined to handle its business? A team with some confidence finally after two strong showings? A team with a bit of over-confidence?
Buffalo is no slouch, as before Leipold’s departure they were tabbed as the favorites to win the MAC in 2021. Now, losing your head coach—one of the better up-and-coming minds in the business at that—and remaking your entire coaching staff and losing some key pieces to the transfer portal all within the interim between spring and fall camp changes a lot, but Buffalo isn’t bereft of talent.
Nebraska also has two home losses to G5 schools in its last four, so trust that’ll be a key reminder in both locker rooms.
Outside of that, it might be hard to prepare for this Bulls team, because what they were a year ago under Leipold might not be what they are under new head coach Maurice Linguist.
Named the head man in May, Linguist came to Buffalo by way of Michigan, where he served as co-defensive coordinator and DB coach during the spring. UM coach Jim Harbaugh had just hired him away from the Dallas Cowboys, where he’d also served as the DB coach for the 2020 season. Linguist also has stops in the Big 12 and SEC on his resume. The entire time he’s been a defensive-minded coach.
But Buffalo under Leipold was one of the country’s best offenses, particularly at the point of attack.
In 2019, Buffalo allowed seven sacks in 13 games, an adjusted sack rate of 2.3% that ranked first in college football. In 2020, with having to replace three of its five starters up front, the Bulls allowed one sack in seven games, an adjusted sack rate of 0.7%, the second-best mark in the country (Washington didn’t give up a sack in four games). In Buffalo’s last 15 games, the quarterback has been sacked twice.
And on the ground, Buffalo had the second-best rushing attack, measured by yards per play. The line was excellent creating holes on standard downs and one of the country’s best at converting short-yardage runs.
Their’s was an equal opportunity rushing attack. The big guys cracked heads up front, the tailbacks made dudes miss once they squirted through holes. Jaret Patterson, now in the NFL, averaged 7.6 yards a carry and 178.7 yards a game, the latter mark was the nation’s best. His backfield partner though, Kevin Marks Jr., was 20th nationally with 105.9 yards a game and averaged a slightly worse but still remarkable 6.6 yards a carry.
Take away the three service academies, and only three other FBS programs ran the ball more often than Buffalo did last season (65.6% run rate).
When Leipold took the Kansas job, Buffalo offensive line coach, Scott Fuchs, went with him. The team’s starting center then followed his coaches to Lawrence. The team’s starting right guard hit the portal, and its starting left tackle went to the NFL.
Marks is back, as are the starting right guard and right tackle and a multi-year starter at quarterback, but you have to wonder how different this offense looks with so much of what made it effective out the door.
If Nebraska comes out guns blazing, hoping to put the game to bed early, Buffalo is having to play outside itself and chase the game. If Nebraska is slow out of the gates and Buffalo sticks with the approach that has served it well in the past, NU could be in for a long, grind-it-out day. We should see this group’s mettle.
The Guy to Know
James Patterson is the name to know on defense. He’s got 31 starts under his belt in his first three years on campus, led the team in tackles last year (63, fifth-most in the MAC), and earned first-team All-MAC honors. He’s the captain and unquestioned leader of that unit.
The Number to Know
With all the rushing success Buffalo has enjoyed of late, it has done well to keep teams honest while running them over. Last year, the Bull’s 8.4 yards per pass play (adjusted for sacks) ranked 10th nationally. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease completed 62% of his tosses last season and had just three interceptions in 154 attempts. In 392 career throws, he’s only been picked off seven times.
What they’ve been has been a team that will make you stop the run and if you can’t, they won’t get cute and start giving the ball away through the air. Again, how much of the identity changes with the coaching staff overhaul? That remains to be seen, as Buffalo is certainly entering into a Year Zero of a total rebuild. Still, the guys on offense don’t give the ball away, and that’s a good starting point to build off of.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.