Buffalo Team Report
The headline on the Buffalo News website probably summed it up best.
“Boise bowl bid is no small potatoes for UB,” it read.
UB would be the University of Buffalo, which along with San Diego State exhaled after learning they had been invited to play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise on Dec. 21.
Both the Bulls (8-4) of the Mid-American Conference and the Aztecs (7-5) of the Mountain West were sweating it out when bowl announcements were made Sunday night. With 79 teams bowl eligible and only 70 spots available, both weren’t sure they’d get invited. The MAC had only three guaranteed spots while the Mountain West had seven teams for six spots.
Turned out the MAC ended up with five bowl berths while San Diego State, rumored to be on the outside looking in right up to the announcement, got the bid over San Jose State, despite the fact Spartan AD Gene Bleymaier was a driving force in creating the Potato Bowl (then known as the Humanitarian Bowl) during his days as Boise State’s athletic director.
“It was a huge relief, it was fun to call Rocky (Long) and say, ‘You’ve got another couple of weeks of work here,” San Diego State athletic director Jim Sterk told UTSanDiego.com. “It was a very long week because of all the uncertainty.”
San Diego State had won seven of eight games before getting crushed by UNLV, 45-19, in its regular season finale on Nov. 30. The Aztecs will be making a school-record fourth consecutive bowl appearance.
“We had no idea what would happen,” Long said. “But I think we deserved it. I think the team will be extremely happy to not end the way we did the last game.”
Buffalo will be making just it second bowl appearance in school history. The Bulls lost to Donald Brown-led UConn, 38-20, in the International Bowl following the 2008 season.
“We’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to go bowling,” athletic director Danny White told the Buffalo News.
Don’t be surprised if the folks in Boise root for the Bulls over the Mountain West team. San Diego State has defeated Boise State each of the past two seasons.
Players To Watch:
• LB Khalil Mack leads the Buffalo defense. The MAC Defensive Player of the Year and considered a future first round NFL Draft pick set an FBS career record with 16 forced fumble and is tied for the mark for tackles for loss (75) set by Western Michigan’s Jason Babin. He was named the 2013 winner of the Jack Lambert Award which goes to college football’s top linebacker.
• RB Branden Oliver was a first team all-MAC pick after breaking his own school record with 1,421 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has 3,935 career rushing yards.
• WR Alex Neutz, a senior, holds the school career record with 30 touchdown catches. He has a team-best 58 receptions for 947 yards and 11 TDs this season for the Bulls and was a first team all-MAC choice.
• RB Adam Muema is a tough, between-the-tackles runner who keys San Diego State’s offense. He ranks fifth in the Mountain West in rushing with 1,015 yards and 12 touchdowns.
• QB Quinn Kaehler, a junior college walk-on who took over play-calling duties after the Aztecs began the season 0-3, has passed for 2,796 yards and 17 touchdowns.
• WR Ezell Ruffin has 63 receptions for 1,061 yards and three touchdowns for the Aztecs.
Bowl History: Buffalo is 0-1 in bowl games having lost to Connecticut, 38-20, in the International Bowl in Toronto after the 2008 season. San Diego State is 5-6 in bowl games but has dropped five of its last six including a 23-6 loss to BYU in last year’s Poinsettia Bowl.
Quote To Note: “We didn’t get the MAC championship, but we got one more game to continue our season. We’re going to give it all we got this last game.”—Buffalo sophomore QB Joe Licata on playing San Diego State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: Both teams have 1,000-yard rushers: Branden Oliver (1,421) for Buffalo and underrated Adam Muema (1,015) for San Diego State. The Aztecs rank 22nd in run defense allowing 132.9 yards per game while Buffalo ranks 58th (159.8).
Scouting the passing game: Having extra time to prepare should help the Bulls get ready for San Diego State’s 3-3-5, blitz-from-all-angles defense. The Aztecs, who play a lot of man coverage, are vulnerable to big plays (see UNLV) if quarterbacks have time to throw.
Scouting the run defense: Buffalo ranks lower in run defense but has a turnover-making machine in LB Khalil Mack who holds the NCAA career record with 16 forced fumbles. Because of all its unique blitzes, San Diego State is tough to run against but can be prone to the big play once a back gets past the line of scrimmage.
Scouting the pass defense: Buffalo is allowing just 216.6 yards per game through the air. San Diego State was burned for five touchdown passes by UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring last time out.
Scouting the special teams: Rocky Long has so little faith in his kicking game that he has routinely shunned field goals and gone for it on fourth down. He also isn’t afraid to go for two points after touchdowns. Buffalo PK Patrick Clarke has connected on 12 of 19 field goals.
Intangibles: San Diego State scored one of the biggest wins in the Rocky Long era when it upset Boise State, 21-19, last year on the blue Smurf Turf to earn a share of the Mountain West title. Still the Aztecs have struggled in recent years in bowl games.
• Buffalo LB Nick Gilbo is out for the season with an undisclosed injury.
• San Diego State LB Blake Rodgers and OL Paul Rodriguez are both questionable for the bowl game with heart issues.