Liberty hits the road for the first time this season on Saturday, Sept. 16 against Buffalo. Kickoff is scheduled for Noon and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.
To help us get prepared for the game against the Bulls, we are pleased to have Rachel Lenzi provide some insight on this year’s Buffalo team. Lenzi covers Buffalo for the Buffalo News.
ASOR: What is the overall feeling surrounding this season within the program thus far coming into the season and after a couple games?
Rachel Lenzi: The Bulls are 0-2 after a loss to Fordham, a Football Championship Subdivision program – and UB’s second loss to an FCS opponent in as many years. However, there’s not a sense of “cashing it in” or “calling it a season” within the program or among the players. They began the 2022 season 0-3 and then responded by winning the next five games, including a win against Toledo, the eventual Mid-American Conference champion. It’s a 12-game season that has a lot of ebbs, flows, ups and downs.
ASOR: What has been your feeling/evaluation of Cole Snyder going into the season and what is the expectation for his production in this game/season?
RL: Cole Snyder threw for 3,030 yards in 2022 and continued the stability that Kyle Vantrease established at quarterback in the previous three seasons – Vantrease started 25 consecutive games from 2019-22. Vantrease transferred to Georgia Southern after the 2021 season, a few weeks after Snyder joined the program as a transfer from Rutgers, and Snyder won the starting job in the summer.
Snyder can pass, and he works well in the pocket but this season, he needs reinforcement on the ground. UB allowed opponents 32 sacks last season. They’ve allowed one in their first two games, but have only 247 yards and two touchdowns on 60 carries. Snyder has 10 carries for a loss of three yards so far this season.
ASOR: Who do you consider to be the biggest X factor on the Buffalo offense besides the quarterback? How about for the defense?
RL: Offense: It will be one of three wide receivers: Cole Harrity, DJ Harding or Marlyn Johnson. UB has exercised a lot of depth at wide receiver in its first two games. Harrity, Harding and Johnson are fifth-year seniors– Harrity has found his niche at slot receiver, while Harding has FBS experience at Duke and Johnson has length and athleticism.
Defense: Devin Grant, a safety who had eight tackles and two pass breakups against Fordham … but was ejected early in the second half after he was penalized for targeting. He won’t play the first half against Liberty.
ASOR: What do you expect the ending record for this team to look like and what would make for a successful season?
RL: Regular season: 7-5. Another bowl bid would make this a successful season, but so would finishing games and plays. One thing that plagued UB last season was that when it came time to close out a game or a drive – or earn bowl eligibility – they couldn’t thread the proverbial needle. They had three chances to win a sixth game and lost all three games in November of 2022, and needed a late fourth-quarter comeback to earn bowl eligibility on the final day of the season. We’re even seeing it early in the season – UB lost a 21-3 lead against Fordham. Consistently successful teams find ways to close those plays, drives and games. UB needs to establish that kind of consistency.
ASOR: What player do you expect to have a breakout year?
RL: Nik McMillan, a redshirt freshman and a wide receiver, hasn’t started either game this season – even though I projected him to be a starter! – but he has stepped into games and has made some decisive catches, on plays that should give the coaching staff more confidence in him.
ASOR: Where do you think the Flames will struggle the most against this team?
RL: Can I reverse this question? Where do I think the Flames will exploit the Bulls? In the air. Fordham picked apart UB in the second, third and fourth quarters, and UB’s players admitted they did not finish plays or finish tackles, and struggled to close space between themselves, CJ Montes’ passes and Fordham’s receivers.
ASOR: What is your final score prediction for this game?
RL: Liberty 31, Buffalo 30.
Disclaimer: I am usually wrong on score predictions.