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Husker opponent preview: Everything you need to know about the Buffalo Bulls
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Husker opponent preview: Everything you need to know about the Buffalo Bulls

Sam digs into the three keys for the Huskers as they host a dangerous MAC opponent.

Buffalo Bulls

Offensive yards per play: 7.29 (25th nationally)

Defensive yards per play: 1.94 (second)

Turnover margin: Minus-1 (tied for 84th)

Penalty yards per game: 54 (tied for 74th)

Coach

Maurice Linguist (1-0 overall)

Linguist was hired as a first-time coach in May, four months into his term as a co-defensive coordinator at Michigan. Last season, he was the defensive backs coach for the Dallas Cowboys. He coached defensive backs for Buffalo from 2012-13. Linguist takes over for Lance Leipold, the former UNO aide who departed for Kansas after leading the Bulls to their best stretch in FBS program history, including three straight bowl games and a spot in the final Top 25 last season. The 37-year-old Linguist, the nation’s fourth-youngest coach, takes over with an overhauled staff and roster with 10 starters back. His tenure got off to a quick start as his Bulls dismantled Wagner, an FCS program that had gone 1-13 the past two seasons, 69-7.

Offense

Type: Spread

Coordinator: Shane Montgomery

The former coach at Miami (Ohio) and Bo Pelini’s offensive coordinator at Youngstown State was most recently the O.C. for FCS juggernaut James Madison, and if the opener was any indication, this Bulls attack should again be very run predicated. The most striking blow in roster turnover was the graduation of second-team All-America running back Jaret Patterson. There will be some stability in the backfield with the return of quarterback Kyle Vantrease, his third year as a starter, and running back Kevin Marks. Vantrease has been more of a game manager for the run-heavy offense but is traditionally accurate. Ron Cook, last season’s third-string back, led the team with 94 rushing yards against Wagner. Jovany Ruiz-Navarro is the only returning starter at receiver and is joined by Eastern Michigan transfer Quian Williams. The offensive line, one of the best in the nation statistically last season, should take a small step back but returns starters Jack Klenk and Jake Fuzak.

Defense

Type: 4-3

Coordinator: Joe Cauthen

Cauthen comes to Buffalo after two years as the defensive coordinator for Houston. He also coached five years in that position at Arkansas State. His units have generally been below average in scoring defense, but he’s paired with a coach with a defensive background, albeit one with no more experience than as a secondary coach. Cauthen is known to prefer an “aggressive, attacking style,” but his Houston units didn’t accrue an exceptional amount of sacks or turnovers. His Arkansas State groups backed up that description better, which Scott Frost’s 2016 UCF team can attest to, but did so at the expense of sacrificing points. But the Bulls boast some talented pass-rushing and ball-stopping weapons in the front seven and a veteran secondary ready to be molded. The Bulls ranked in the top 35 nationally in scoring defense and total defense each of the past two seasons. The Bulls again should have a good offense and a good defense for a Group of Five team.

Players to watch

Marks: He has been one of the nation’s better backup running backs the past three years, piling up over 2,600 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns in his career, including two TDs against Wagner. Look for him to take the mantle of high-volume back. He and Cook could give Nebraska fits if the run defense is off and on as it’s been thus far.

Williams: He tallied just short of 1,000 receiving yards the past two seasons at Eastern Michigan. He looks like he may be the Bulls’ top target after leading the team with five catches for 96 yards in the opener.

Taylor Riggins: The senior defensive end missed last season with an injury after earning first-team MAC honors with 8½ sacks in 2019. He had two sacks against Wagner and could be a headache for Adrian Martinez and Nebraska linemen Saturday.

James Patterson: A first-team MAC honoree last season, Patterson has 186 career tackles, along with six forced fumbles and two interceptions.

They said it

“Things that we laid out in terms of our initial vision, we saw a lot of those things tonight. But we’re certainly far from any kind of finished product or anything like that. We’re going to continue to work, put our heads down and see how good we can get.” — Buffalo coach Maurice Linguist

“They’ve got good pass rushers, all-conference linebackers, good guys up front, and some fast guys in the back. They’re very sound in their scheme, very aggressive in their scheme, and they look really well coached, they looked like world-beaters in game one.” — Nebraska coach Scott Frost

Three stats

Plus-62.0: The Bulls lead the nation in points per game (69.0) and scoring margin (plus-62.0), but expect them to revert to the norm against the Huskers. They did have a plus-21.6 scoring margin last year, third in the FBS, albeit with a seven-game schedule that didn’t include any Power Five teams. In 2019, they were plus-8.7, 30th in the nation.

70.6%: Buffalo’s winning percentage in past three years, its winningest stretch in FBS. In the 19 years prior as an FCS program, the Bulls held a winning percentage of 40.6.

1-8: Buffalo’s record against Big Ten opponents, its lone win coming against 1-11 Rutgers in 2018. The Huskers, who have never played Buffalo, will look to avoid becoming the second casualty.


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