By Shehan Jeyarajah
The No. 23 Baylor Bears (1-0) are coming off of a 69-3 thrashing against FCS opponent Wofford last Saturday. The Bears scored the most points in a game since 1924. They also posted the third most yards in program history with a total of 692.
This Saturday will bring more of a test with FBS opponent University of Buffalo coming down to Waco after a 40-20 loss at Ohio State last Saturday.
“It is a step up in competition,” head football coach Art Briles said. “It’s going to be a good matchup for us from the standpoint that they’re more up-tempo and they’re going to throw the ball more and it’s more conducive to what we’ll see on down the line.”
Compared to Wofford, Buffalo has a more balanced attack. The Bulls offense is led by senior wide receiver Alex Neutz. Neutz finished as a 1,000 yard receiver last season for Buffalo and caught 11 touchdowns. Against Ohio State’s defense, he had nine receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore quarterback Joe Licata threw for 185 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
The Buffalo running game is spearheaded by senior running back Branden Oliver. His sophomore year, Oliver set a single season school record with 1,395 rushing yards. Against Ohio State, Oliver struggled and finished with 73 yards rushing on 26 attempts.
No preview of the Buffalo Bulls would be complete without talking about Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. Mack is a 6-foot-3 outside linebacker who has been projected by many draft sources as a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. CBS Sports has him listed as the 23rd pick in the first round in their most recent mock draft.
Mack has been All-MAC First Team each of the past two seasons. Last year, he finished with 94 tackles, 21.0 of them for loss, 8.0 sacks and four forced fumbles.
“He’s good. He’s real good,” Briles said. “All the talk he’s generating for himself, he certainly deserves. If I had to compare him to somebody, I would say Von Miller. He’s explosive, he’s dynamic, he’s quick, he’s long, he’s vicious and he’s a multi-position guy.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer got a chance to see Mack firsthand in their game against Buffalo last week and gave rave reviews.
“Mack is a fantastic football player. He could play anywhere at any school in America, that kid for Buffalo.”
In the game against the Buckeyes, Mack did it all. He finished with nine tackles, seven of them solo, 2.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. The highlight of the day was a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown. Mack jumped the passing lane and got the interception after beating his blocker. He then outran running back Dontre Wilson and quarterback Braxton Miller for the touchdown.
For his performance, CBS Sports named Mack the National Defensive Player of the Week.
Baylor has an excellent offensive line, especially on the blind side with sophomore left tackle Spencer Drango and senior left guard Cyril Richardson. Senior quarterback Bryce Petty will need to keep his eye on Mack at all times.
Mack has displayed an uncanny ability to disrupt the offense. Time and time again, he penetrates into the backfield and he had no problem doing so against the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Buffalo defended the pass well against a good Ohio State team last week, holding Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller to only 178 yards passing.
Perhaps the best sign for Baylor fans is that the Bulls defense struggled against the run, allowing 261 rushing yards on 5.8 yards a carry. Starting Ohio State running back Jordan Hall had 159 yards on 7.6 yards per carry and two touchdowns.
Heading into Saturday’s action, Buffalo’s defense should provide a new challenge for Baylor’s offense. Petty will get constant pressure from an NFL-quality outside linebacker, which should aid in Petty’s preparation to face Big 12 talent. The Bulls secondary will also be tested with the incredible receiver depth Baylor displays.
“They are coming out with a balanced defense,” senior inside receiver Tevin Reese said. “They run the ball a lot, and their offense is good and their defense is good. I think it will be a real good match-up for us this week.”
Baylor’s running game should pose all kinds of problems for Buffalo. While Mack can create havoc, junior running back Lache Seastrunk is one of the best in football at evading the tackler. Once a running back gets past Mack, the Bears should find running room in the secondary.
Baylor’s defense may actually be more comfortable playing a passing team like Buffalo instead of a team that ran a gimmicky offense like Wofford’s triple-option running attack.
Baylor’s defensive experience lies in the secondary, especially with senior safety Ahmad Dixon and three senior cornerbacks: Joe Williams, Demetri Goodson and K.J. Morton.
“We know it will be a fun game,” Dixon said. “It’ll be what we are used to seeing each and every day, week in and week out. Now we are back to our old selves. Back to our old rhythm.”
The No. 23 Bears are prepared to face the Bulls at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Floyd Casey Stadium.