Rockets head east to face Buffalo
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 03:10
The cups, hot dog wrappers and leftover thundersticks have been swept up from the Glass Bowl turf and the Rockets have turned the page on Saturday’s thrilling 29-23 victory over No. 21 Cincinnati.
For the seventh time in school history, UT topped a nationally ranked team, improving their record to 5-1 at home in those matchups.
“I thought it was a great win for our football team,” said UT head coach Matt Campbell. “More impressively, it was a great win for our city and our campus. The atmosphere here was electric Saturday night and it was great to be able to give everyone a great win to talk about.”
After receiving a couple votes in the Top 25 Coaches Poll the last two weeks, there was much speculation that a victory Saturday would lead to a spot in the polls.
In a somewhat surprising result, the Rockets found themselves on the outside looking in when the rankings were released Sunday afternoon. UT was essentially ranked 26th (49 votes) in the AP Poll and 31st in the Coaches.
Cincinnati fell out of the top 25 in both, but still received 21 more votes than Toledo in the Coaches Poll.
The players and coaching staff refuse to let the snub bother them.
“It’s not a concern for me or anyone else on the team,” said senior linebacker Dan Molls, who continues to lead the nation in total tackles. “That’s strictly just a number for us, it really doesn’t mean anything. Would it be cool? Yeah, but it’s not something that we really place an emphasis on. Week by week, we’re just trying to win the next game.”
The next game for the Rockets (8-4, 4-0 MAC) won’t have quite the same level of intensity or attention as they travel east to face the Buffalo Bulls.
Buffalo (1-6, 0-3) has struggled all season on both sides of the ball, scoring just 20.4 points per game (106th nationally, 12th in the MAC) and allowing 32.7 (98th nationally, seventh in the MAC).
The Bulls’ schedule has not done them any favors. They began the 2012 campaign on the road at Georgia and have also traveled to Connecticut.
They then played back-to-back road games against two of the best teams in the conference — the top two front-runners in the minds of some — Ohio and Northern Illinois.
Last week, they faced another Big East opponent, falling 20-6 to Pittsburgh.
“They probably have one of the tougher schedules that any MAC team has played up until this point,” Campbell said.
Despite their poor record, Campbell is aware of a few playmakers more than capable of giving his squad some headaches.
“Offensively, they’ve got two great players, their running back is tremendous,” he said.
The Bulls use a pair of talented junior backs in Alex Zordich and Branden Oliver. Zordich has run for 434 yards (4.9 YPC) and a touchdown while Oliver has run for 426 (6.0) and three touchdowns.
Oliver did not play last week because of a knee injury, but Campbell expects him to play Saturday.
Standout receiver Alex Neutz also missed their last game because of an injury to his ribs and is listed as questionable.
He dressed for the game last weekend, but did not participate.
If Neutz — who is leading the MAC with seven touchdowns — is on the field, he could present a challenge for the Rocket corners.
Perhaps the best player on the roster and one of the best in the MAC is one of their linebackers.
“From a defensive standpoint, they truly have one of the best defensive players in our conference in Khalil Mack,” Campbell said. “[He] makes plays all over the place.”
Mack has piled up 52 total tackles and sacked the quarterback 4.5 times, the most of any player in the MAC.
He should have quite a few opportunities to bring down UT running back David Fluellen, although that task has been much more easily said than done.
The junior’s 953 rushing yards are the most among MAC running backs and he has rushed for 666 yards in his last four games.
“I said this to our team two or three weeks ago, but he is honestly one of the best running backs in the Midwest right now,” Campbell said. “He’s such a hard runner, he’s got the ability to make cuts in space where he’s getting that extra four or five yards because he’s making somebody miss in the hole. I know I said this before the season, but I really felt that he was going to have a breakout year.”
Something else to keep your eye on is Bernard Reedy who looks to score a special teams touchdown for the fourth straight week. He brought home MAC West Special Teams Player of the Week honors for the third week in a row after his performance against the Bearcats, which included a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
“We knew we had a really good player in the return game and thought Bernard was going to be really special someday when he had the opportunity to do it,” Campbell said. “I think Bernard has done a really good job of settling into that role. It’s hard to practice that situation because when live bullets are coming at you, it’s hard to practice that.”
Reedy has become one of the most dangerous double threats in the country. He rankes 13th in the nation with 738 receiving yards to go along with his 715 total return yards.
Saturday’s kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.