Al Golden and Turner Gill were in the same situation last year.Both coaches, Golden with Temple and Gill with Buffalo, were in their first season at the helm of their respective football teams. Both were also attempting to revitalize their programs.
Gill picked up his first win and handed Golden his first loss when their teams met in the season-opener last year. The Bulls squeaked out a 9-3 overtime win at UB Stadium after the Owls’ offense squandered three goal line opportunities and wound up settling for a game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter.
“It was a real close game last year, a heartbreaker,” sophomore cornerback Anthony Ferla said. “We had the ball on the goal line and couldn’t score.”
Both teams will have a chance to score their first win of the season when the Owls (0-1) take on the Bulls (0-1) at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday. It will be the first Mid-American Conference game for both teams.”We’re real excited about Buffalo,” Ferla said. “It’s our first home game in the MAC.”
Temple was predicted to finish sixth and Buffalo was picked to finish last in the seven-team MAC East Division, according to a MAC News Media Association preseason poll.
“We will not be overconfident,” Golden said about the matchup. “I don’t care about the rankings … They’re a little bit more of a veteran team than we are.”
The Owls finished with a 1-11 record last season, while the Bulls went 2-10. Rutgers defeated Buffalo, 38-3, Thursday, while the Owls lost to Navy, 30-19, Friday before 30,368, the largest crowd to ever watch a Temple football game at the four-year-old Linc.
“It looks like there’s a little bit more familiarity, a little bit more confidence in what they’re doing,” Gill said about Temple.
The Owls outscored the Midshipmen, 19-16, in the final three quarters of the contest, but the team “shot [itself] in the foot early” with a number of costly offensive penalties, quarterback Adam DiMichele said.
“I’m anxious to see how we do respond
to a loss,” said DiMichele, who completed 21-of-29 passes for 199 yards while throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I’m sure players will be watching
film . . . trying to get a head start on Buffalo,” the red-shirt junior said.
“Rutgers beat [Buffalo] pretty bad the other day, so I’m pretty sure they’re anxious to get in [here] and gain some momentum in the MAC.”
The Bulls have 23 returning players from last season, including eight offensive starters. Junior quarterback Drew Willy and sophomore running back James Starks lead a Bulls offense that scored a total of 220 points last season, the most points they’ve scored since the team moved to the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A) in 1999. Starks scored the game-winning touchdown against Temple last season on an 18-yard run.
“I expect for us to improve this year offensively with most of our guys coming back,” Gill said. “I anticipate us being better than we were last year.”
Along with Willy and Starks, the Bulls also feature senior wide receiver Terrance Breaux, who caught 32 passes for 444 yards and led the team with three touchdown receptions.
“They have three veteran players at key positions,” Golden said. “All three of those guys have big play potential.”
Buffalo scored 201 of its 220 points in conference play last season. Last November, the Bulls defeated MAC East Division opponent Kent State, 41-14, at UB Stadium for its second of two wins.
“They’re a lot better than people give them credit for,” Golden said. “I know they’re a lot better.” On the opposite side of the ball, the Bulls return 31 players, including eight starters on defense. The Bulls’ defense is anchored by senior defensive lineman Trevor Scott, senior linebacker Ollice Ervin and sophomore defensive back Mike Newton. Last season, Scott led the team with nine sacks. He and Ervin combined to make a total of 140 tackles for the Bulls. Newton grabbed a team-high five interceptions.
“They can really run on defense,” Golden said. “They’ve got some experience.”
Like the Owls, Buffalo is attempting to turn around a program that has struggled to win in recent years. The Bulls have six wins in the last four seasons, only two more victories than Temple owns in the same period.
“We’ve tried to build a relationship with our players,” Gill said. “The biggest thing is trying to make sure we understand each other in a deeper way, whether it’s football-related or non-football-related.”
The Gill era got off to a positive start after the Bulls beat the Owls last season. After that game, the Owls suffered
seven straight losses before defeating Bowling Green, 28-14, for their first win under Golden.
“It was a disappointing loss for us [against Buffalo] last year,” Golden said, “so we’ve got to bounce back and get the guys ready to go.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.