This week's guest is Bob DiCesare of The Buffalo News. Bob was kind enough to answer my questions ...1. Buffalo has played a brutal schedule and has been competitive in several losses. However, the Bulls haven't shown much the past two weeks. In your opinion, are they getting tired from such a grueling succession of games?
You're right. Their schedule is brutal under any circumstances, particularly so for a team coming off a three-win season. I think it caught up with them in that total clunker they turned in at Northern Illinois. They had nothing that day. They got blown off the line. And now with this game they'll have opened with the top four teams in the MAC -- Kent, Ohio, NIU and Toledo. They were without Branden Oliver the last month and Alex Neutz, one of the top WRs in the MAC, in the Pitt game. Saturday should be the first time since the first half of the Kent game on Sept. 19 all key offensive starters should be available. In part it's been kind of a perfect storm scenario.
2. The key to beating Toledo, in my opinion, is to cover its receivers. Arizona did a great job of it, and Cincinnati (although in defeat) limited Toledo's vertical game. Is Buffalo as good against the pass as its statistics (second in the MAC) indicate?
We shall see. This is the best passing attack they've faced since the opener against Georgia. And the fastest set of receivers they've seen since Georgia. The DEs and LBs can bring pressure but the DBs rarely play press coverage and teams have had good luck moving the chains against them with short passes as a result. Free safety Witney Sherry is questionable after missing the Pitt game. Derek Brim played extremely well in his place. Safety play will be big for the Bulls Saturday because I've seen Reedy run. They're not covering him one-on-one.
3. It looks like Buffalo is starting to get healthy. What will the return of Branden Oliver mean to an offense that has been lifeless the past two weeks? Also, will any of the other players returning to health be factors Saturday?
Oliver's huge but not because they've been starving in the running game. True freshman went over 100 in two of three starts as Oliver's replacement. But Bo, as he's known, brings another dimension because he's so difficult to bring down and has pretty good speed once he gets into the secondary. Bulls need some big plays out of the offense because the defense isn't forcing any turnovers. The return of Neutz is large for the passing game. He's their best receiver hands down. It looks like they're also getting back their No. 2, Fred Lee, who's been out since the first half of the Kent game as well.
4. Alex Zordich hasn't put up very good numbers. Is he struggling because of his supporting cast, or is the offense struggling because of Zordich?
Ah, the old chicken or egg question. It's both. They went to more of a short-routes, quick-release West Coast-style passing attack against Pitt to try to get Zordich into a rhythm. It helped. I think that's the best approach with him because he's not a great passer. He came out of a running high school (Cardinal Mooney, Youngstown) and that's his forte. He can run and he's tough. That said, the receiving corps outside of Neutz has been a disappointment going back to training camp no matter who was at QB. Maybe it's on the upswing. Devon Hughes and John Dunmore have emerged the last two games after barely being heard from early on. Lee should be back.
5. It was just a few years ago that Buffalo shook up the MAC and won the league title. What must happen for this program to again be a factor in this league?
Let's go back to that season. They beat Temple on a last-play Hail Mary. They won at Akron in four OTs and Bowling Green in two OTs after trailing by 14 in the fourth. That was the difference between 5-3 and 2-6. Pretty scant. Then they knocked off Ball State in the title game on the strength of two long fumble returns for TDs. Four players off that team -- including the top three offensive weapons -- got NFL looks and two are still in the league. Yet everything had to fall perfectly into place for them to win the MAC. That's how competitive this league is. That defense forced over 30 turnovers. This one has three. The offense doesn't know the meaning of a short field. So we should start there. If you don't have a dynamic offense you better have a defense that makes the other team cough it up. And this defense -- although pretty decent overall -- hasn't done that.