Year two of the Maurice Linguist era in Buffalo is upon us. Year one featured a myriad of growing pains as the Bulls moved on from head coach Lance Leipold and several irreplaceable talents such as Jaret Patterson and Malcolm Koonce. After compiling a 24-10 record across the most successful 3-year stretch in program history, Buffalo fell to 4-8 last year and observed the conclusion of its season in November instead of qualifying a bowl game. Linguist and his staff hope the lessons learned in that transition year can be applied to prevent such an occurrence from transpiring again.
Rod Ojong was a member of Linguist’s initial staff when Buffalo underwent the coaching change in the 2021 offseason. Ojong specialized in coaching the safeties last season, but this year he will expand his territorial reign by serving as the overseer of all defensive backs.
Buffalo’s defensive backs weren’t tested as regularly as most secondaries in the country. Only Arizona witnessed fewer opposing passing attempts than the 299 the Bulls encountered in 2021. Despite this lack of attempts, Buffalo still ranked in the middle of the pack (57th in FBS) by allowing an average of 221 passing yards. Combining those two concepts shows a more alarming statistic: only seven FBS teams yielded more yards per passing attempt than the Bulls’ 8.8 a season ago.
The Bulls are very stout in their front seven, featuring All-MAC talent such as Daymond Williams and James Patterson. The secondary — bereft of any 2021 all-conference selection — is the area of the defense which could use the most improvement in order to transform Buffalo back into one of the MAC’s premier units.
Marcus Fuqua is the headliner of the secondary as the team’s third-ranked tackler from 2021. The free safety developed into a full-time starter last year, compiling seven starts, and he capitalized on his increased role with 59 tackles and three pass breakups. Fuqua is Buffalo’s most polished member of a secondary which loses key contributors such as Cory Gross Jr., Ja’Marcus Ingram, Aapri Washington, and C.J. Brown, so the Bulls have a lot of vacancies to fill throughout the rest of the position group.
Luckily, the transfer portal comes in handy in 2022. Buffalo cast its net into the portal and hauled in a cast of defensive backs that rivals that of any transfer class in the nation. The Bulls’ assembled the highest rated transfer class in the MAC, and it features secondary talent including Florida cornerback Elijah Blades, Notre Dame cornerback Caleb Offord, Cincinnati cornerback Iesa Jarmon, JUCO cornerback Jayden Oliver, Boston College strong safety Jahmin Muse, and Minnesota free safety Solomon Brown.
Blades, Offord, and Oliver all enter campus with day one starting cornerback potential. Of the three, Blades is the most likely to secure a role given his extensive starting experience in the SEC. Prior to his tenure at Florida, he started six games for Texas A&M in 2019, registering 19 tackles and three pass breakups along the way. Fellow transfers Oliver and Offord are among the candidates for the other cornerback spot. Oliver joins the program after securing six interceptions in two seasons at New Mexico Military Institute, while Offord’s collegiate on-field experience is limited due to Notre Dame’s talent in a crowded defensive back depth chart.
Of course, Buffalo also retains players from 2021 who should compete for starting roles on the boundaries. Isaiah King is a worthy of pairing with Blades after recording 14 starts over the last two seasons. Entering his sixth year with the program, King touts a résumé which features 50 career tackles and a defensive touchdown in the 2020 opener against Northern Illinois.
Another cornerback in the starting mix is Logic Hudgens, who was on his way to a promising sophomore season before injury struck in early October. In four games, Hudgens totaled 11 tackles and secured a rare interception from highly efficient Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall — who only tossed six picks on 491 attempts since 2020.
Some of the aforementioned cornerbacks might not win the starting job, but will contribute valuable depth to a revamped secondary. One key reserve this year should be Iesa Jarmon, who has four years of eligibility remaining after transferring from Cincinnati. Jarmon learned from the best-of-the-best during his brief time with the Bearcats, practicing alongside 2022 NFL Draft selections Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant.
The cornerback group welcomed the most transfers, but the safety group features a likely starter from the portal as well. Jahmin Muse started all 11 games for Boston College during the abbreviated 2020 season. The strong safety checked in at fourth on the defense in tackles that year while serving as the team lead with three interceptions. Muse picked off a total of five passes for the Eagles, running the picks back for a collective 108 yards and a touchdown. If Muse sustains his level of play from his ACC days, the pairing of Fuqua and Muse could rise to one of the top safety tandems in the MAC in expeditious fashion.
Buffalo features five defensive back spots in its 4-2-5 defense, so the final opening is likely reserved for Dylan Powell or Jibrahn Claude. Powell, holding graduate student status at the university, possesses the most experience of the remaining safeties with four starts in 2021 in which he posted 20 tackles. Claude, now a redshirt freshman, earned one start against Miami (OH) and shined with six tackles and a forced fumble. Claude only made two appearances last season, but after witnessing him relish in a starting role last November, he could become one of Buffalo’s most improved prospects in 2022.
Solomon Brown, one of the aforementioned transfers, is expected to be a steady contributor as a nickelback on the roster. He collected three tackles at Minnesota last season and should see a spike in playing time after relocating to upstate New York. Additional safety depth will be bolstered by Jalen McNair, who has five games of experience across the last two seasons.
Training camp should be an exciting time in the defensive back room, with a multitude of transfers mingling with the returning talent. Five starting spots are up in the air, and given the close nature of these position battles, the possibilities for starting lineups are endless. Buffalo certainly knocked it out of the park by addressing its need for secondary depth this offseason, and the Bulls will test their new group’s mettle against Maryland when the season kicks off Sept. 3.