By Jonah Bronstein
The Buffalo Bulls’ season-opening drubbing of Rhode Island was hardly a harbinger of how the team will perform for the rest of the season.
Particularly in the very next game.
After winning 31-0 against a Division I-AA school that has lost 10 in row, UB goes on the road to face a Big 12 team with one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks.
The Bulls are embracing the sudden jump in the level of competition and the opportunity it provides.
“We saw it this past weekend,” coach Jeff Quinn said. “Some BCS teams suffered losses. That’s why we tell your kids all the time, it’s very challenging to win Division I-A football games, no matter who your opponent is. We’re all BCS schools. Any team can play in a BCS bowl game. They just have an automatic qualifier.”
“You don’t judge teams by the conference or the logo on the helmet,” cornerback Josh Thomas said. “Big 12 conference — that’s great. Baylor — that’s great. But our biggest thing is to hydrate. We’re going down there and keeping in mind what we put in this summer. We’re going down there to win a football game. They’re good, but we’re good too.”
UB has beaten a team from one of the six power conferences just once, defeating a struggling Rutgers program in 2002. In recent games against Big 12 competition, the Bulls lost 42-21 at Missouri in 2008 and 34-21 to Baylor at home in 2007.
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This Baylor team has a weapon that one did not in quarterback Robert Griffin III.
An All-American hurdler, Griffin was the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2008. He injured his knee three games in to last season, but has returned to full strength. In the season-opening win over Sam Houston State he threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 59 yards and another score.
“We’re not going to be able to shut down a Robert Griffin,” Quinn said. “But we need to make defensive calls to try and contain him.”
When Thomas was a senior in high school, he was the only hurdler at the state meet to break 36 seconds in the 300. A few years later, Griffin broke 35 seconds.
“Much respect for the guy,” Thomas said. “But we’re prepared.”
A design error on the Bulls’ weekly media notes listed backup quarterback Alex Dennison as the team’s starting running back.
Considering Quinn’s displeasure with the opening-night running game, which saw Dennison lead the team with 26 yards gained during mop-up duty.
“I don’t think there was much of a run game here and we need to do a better job,” Quinn said Thursday. “Our offensive run game is solid structurally as much as the passing game, it just wasn’t executed at times.”
Starting tailback Branden Oliver rushed nine times for 20 yards and had one fumble. Brandon Thermilus gained 27 yards on seven carries and also fumbled. Ike Nduka, last season’s leading rusher, picked up seven yards on five carries.
“Certainly we need more production and more effectiveness,” Quinn said Tuesday. “If you look at Sam Houston’s running game against Baylor’s defense, they didn’t fare too well. We’ve got to be able to adjust to some of the things the defenses are doing. Linebackers moving, not always located. Really, my No. 1 phrase is expect the unexpected.”
Quinn indicated that the Bulls kept things simple in the running attack last week.
“There’s more run game plays and structures that will come out as the season progresses,” he said.
As a result of Texas-born Turner Gill leading the program for the past four years, the Bulls have eight players from the Lonestar State on their roster.
Thomas grew up closes two Waco, Texas, two hours away in Cedar Hill.
“Since my freshman year, my mother has always reminded me ‘you’re playing at Baylor your senior year, we can’t wait,’” Thomas said. “I’m want to go there to entertain. I also want to go there to win.”
Contact reporter Jonah Bronstein at 282-2311, ext. 2258.