UB ready to face the defending MAC champs

October 19, 2018 - 1:21 pm
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UB football (6-1, 3-0) is back on the road this weekend following their homecoming victory over Akron last Saturday at UB Stadium. With the win, the Bulls became bowl eligible for the second year in a row and just the fourth time in school history.

While this is the first time the Bulls have clinched bowl eligibility in back-to-back years, UB was one of three teams in 2017 to not play in a bowl game despite being eligible. That is why with five games remaining in the 2018 regular season, the Bulls want to make sure there is no doubt when it comes to them being selected to a bowl game.

“Six wins didn’t get us anything last year,” Bulls head coach Lance Leipold said on Tuesday. “So there is no promise it will this season. We have to keep moving forward, but to be able to put this season together at this time is a great step forward and it’s something we want to finish strong on.”

The Bulls will have one of their tougher matchups of the season this Saturday when they take on the defending Mid-American Conference champion, Toledo Rockets (3-3, 1-1). Toledo’s .500 record and fourth place spot in the MAC West division could be a bit deceiving. They played two tough non-conference games against Miami (FL.) and at Fresno State; and they suffered a tough two-point loss to Eastern Michigan last week in, what was, a back-and-forth contest.

One thing Toledo can do well is put points up on the board. The Rockets currently have the highest scoring offense in the MAC averaging 43.0 points per game; and in their three wins so far this season, Toledo has scored 66, 63 and 52 points.

“They’re defending conference champs and were going to their place,” Leipold said. “Coach [Jason] Candle is an outstanding coach, highly respected nationally and everybody knows what a great job that program has done. To go there, it’s all the challenges we want to take on right now. If we want to be a team that’s mentioned in conversations to play for a MAC championship we have to play well in places like this.”

Toledo head coach Jason Candle and Leipold have some prior history between one another, the two faced off in the 2007 and 2008 NCAA Division III National Championship games. Leipold at the time was the head coach of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Candle was the offensive coordinator at Mount Union in Ohio.

Saturday’s contest could be seen as the rubber match between the two coaches, Leipold’s Warhawks took the title in 2007 while Candle’s Purple Raiders won the rematch in 2008.

Their last matchup may have been 10 years ago, but Candle’s offenses have always been strong and Leipold doesn’t expect this Toledo team to be any different.

“There are obviously some similar formations but that’s almost like a past life in some ways,” Leipold said. “You can tell [Candle] does an outstanding job of giving you different looks and having plays that compliment off of everything. Their calming theme is getting better each week and not letting one week carry over to another and that you have to keep going, He understands how to get his team ready.”

One thing the Bulls will see from Toledo’s offense is a mobile quarterback in Mitchell Guadagni. The junior from Hudson, Ohio leads the Rockets in rushing yards and had a season-high 134 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown last week against Eastern Michigan. Luckily for the Bulls, they’ve seen their fair share of mobile play callers this season.

“We’ve gone through that the last couple of weeks, facing scrambling and running quarterbacks,” Leipold explained. “It’s a balance, you have to get pressure with your front but also have guys who can make tackles in space. You have to be assigned and sound in what you’re doing.”

"Assigned and sound" seems to be the motto for the UB defense each week. After a shaky start to the season, the Bulls defense has hit their stride and are now the highest scoring defense in the MAC; making Saturday’s matchup with the conference’s highest scoring offense in Toledo an intriguing one.

“I think the defense sees the opportunity and the challenge,” Leipold said. “Last week, we played the East Division champion from last year and now we’re playing last year’s West Division and conference champion. With what this group wants to try to achieve and what their goals are, if you want to do those things, these are the type of games you need to go out and play well.”

While the Bulls defense may be in for a fight on Saturday, the offense should be able to do some damage against Toledo’s defense. The Rockets are the third lowest in the MAC in passing defense and scoring defense. However, Toledo’s run defense is more on par with the Bulls’ rush offense. So, we could see a lot of throws from Tyree Jackson.

Anthony Johnson’s return to the lineup would certainly give the Bulls’ offense an energy boost as well. Last week, Johnson made his return to the lineup last game after missing some time over the last few weeks with a leg injury. The senior receiver finished with two catches for 44 yards and was on the field for 39 of the Bulls’ 75 offensive plays.

“That was pretty much on par for what we wanted,” Leipold said on Johnson’s performance against Akron. “We had a number [of snaps] in mind that we wanted him to play and we met that. It’s still a daily thing, it’s going to depend on how he feels and he continues to progress. But we need to be smart with him; there are a lot of factors that go in. But it was great to see him make some important plays in the game.”

With K.J. Osborn emerging as another true threat at receiver and the freshman running back pair of Kevin Marks and Jaret Patterson stepping up to solidify the Bulls run game over the last few weeks, this offense could be something scary if Anthony Johnson is back to 100-percent health.

It certainly would be the perfect time for the Bulls' leading receiver from last season to make a full return. A win over Toledo would put the Bulls at 7-1 overall and 4-0 in the MAC for the first time since 2013.

“It’s going to be an exciting challenge,” Leipold said. “We don’t spend a lot of time early in the season looking at games and how to get to them. We don’t ‘red-letter’ an opponent or anything like that. But, I think this is one that people looked at and said, ‘If we can progress off what we did a year ago and get better, this game may have good meaning,’ and I think it does.”

Kickoff on Saturday from the Glass Bowl is scheduled for 12 p.m. You can hear the full game along with pre-game and post-game coverage on ESPN 1520.

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