The Buffalo Bulls made significant strides from 2021 to 2022, firmly solidifying themselves in the MAC contention race. While a November skid prevented Buffalo from making its first MAC Championship Game appearance since 2020, the Bulls return plenty of tools in 2023 needed to make another run at Detroit.
Buffalo spent the past season mainly operating in a 4-2-5 scheme under defensive coordinator Brandon Bailey, Bailey departed for Georgia Southern this offseason. To fulfill this vacancy, head coach Maurice Linguist brought in Duke senior defensive analyst Robert Wright in February. Wright worked with a 4-2-5 at Duke, so the current assumption is Buffalo maintains that scheme as the base of its defense in 2023.
So while not technically a “front seven,” Buffalo’s defensive line and linebacker corps are among the team’s most veteran position groups. Still, areas for improvement remain. For instance, the Bulls hope to reverse the trend of sporting an 89th-ranked yards per game run defense which allowed one of the 15th highest rushing averages in the FBS in 2022. Additionally, the team hopes to find a dominant pass rusher, as no player totaled more than 4.5 sacks last year.
Improvement in these areas could be the difference in determining whether Buffalo secures its first MAC championship since 2008.
Buffalo typically trots out four defensive linemen, and that will be the expectation for 2023 as well. This year’s line is headlined by the activity created in the middle by defensive tackle Daymond Williams. The Outland Trophy watchlist selection earned Second Team All-MAC honors in 2021 with 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks and he posted similar numbers in 2022 with 10.5 and 4.5, respectively. The 6’3”, 285 pound defensive tackle is responsible for clogging up the middle and he possesses active hands, which are used for rip-throughs and pass breakups — and he’s accomplished six of the latter across two seasons.
Williams will start alongside Jaylon Bass, who manned the other defensive tackle spot for all 13 games last year. Bass earned a starting role fresh out of the JUCO level, and he contributed 21 tackles and 4.0 tackles for loss in his first season with the Bulls. While Williams and Bass is a strong foundation, Buffalo exhibits even more impressive depth at the defensive tackle position with George Wolo, who was a primary starter in 2020 and 2021. The senior possesses 8.5 sacks, 10.0 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles in 32 games suiting up for Buffalo, which includes 14 starts.
Daishon Folsom is another seasoned member of the depth chart, and he enters 2023 equipped with 21 appearances and 34 tackles over the last two seasons. Like Bass, he hails from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, a pipeline shared by four members of the current roster.
Buffalo utilized a fair share of redshirts at defensive tackle last year, handing them out to Ja’Mori Coard, Devin Morgan, and Cornell Evans. All three players enter their redshirt freshman season this fall, and while each of their statuses in the rotation is unknown, there could be instant special teams contributions from this bunch.
The defensive end position features three players with previous starting experience at Buffalo, and the Bulls hope that experience converts into one or more All-MAC selections this year. C.J. Bazile has logged the most starts of the bunch, manning the first team lineup for seven games in 2021 and four games last season. Bazile contributed 57 tackles across the last two years, setting personal bests in tackles for loss (5.0) and sacks (1.5) in 2022.
Max Michel is a familiar face on the d-line, first operating as a full-time starter in the 2021 season. It was that year where he posted single-season career highs in tackles (35), tackles for loss (6.5), sacks (4.0), and forced fumbles (2). He moved to a reserve defensive end last year when Ibrahim Kante and Damian Jackson transferred into the program, but with Kante and Jackson no longer on the roster, Michel should revert to a starting role for his sixth year on campus.
Lastly, Kyler Laing is an intriguing piece who could challenge for a starting spot. Laing suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2 last September, preventing him from building on a breakout 2021. In 2021, Laing started two contests and set a program record for most sacks in a single-game with 3.5 against Akron. With 8.0 tackles for loss in that campaign, Laing is one of the most invasive backfield disruptors on the roster and Buffalo will need his availability to jumpstart its pass rush.
Buffalo sought additional assistance from the FCS level through the transfer portal by bringing in Jyaire Stevens — another established defensive end. At Lafayette, he produced 7.0 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and nine quarterback hurries — stats Buffalo must emphasize to improve upon a pass rush which ranked 92nd in sacks per game a year ago.
Other defensive ends on the roster include Kameron Olds, who could witness a breakout 2023 after registering six tackles in his true freshman season, as well as other incumbent roster members — Solomanie Bambara, Michael Tetteh, Joey Hawryschuk. The newcomers include JUCO transfer Devonyal Lofton and true freshmen Nick Roy and Junior Poyser.
If you’re not familiar with the name Shaun Dolac already, (1) many college running backs already are, and (2) get ready to hear it a lot on every Buffalo broadcast this year. Dolac’s 2022 was a monstrous breakout season which resulted in 147 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. The first-time starter led the entire MAC in total tackles and ranked second in the FBS, only behind Old Dominion’s Jason Henderson (186) in the category. But in terms of solo tackles, not a single player in the nation amassed more than Dolac’s 97.
With such astronomical stats, Dolac snatched First Team All-MAC honors for his spectacular junior campaign. This year, the weakside linebacker enters his second full season as a starter, hoping to build upon that spectacular 2022 which saw 10 games with double-digit tackles. Dolac is already a preseason sensation with appearances on the Butkus Award watchlist for nation’s best linebacker and Bronko Nagurski Trophy watchlist for the best defensive player in college football.
This year, Dolac loses his partner-in-crime James Patterson, who manned the inside linebacker spot in Buffalo’s 4-2-5 scheme, which is subject to change under Robert Wright. The five-year starter was a three-time All-MAC honoree and another dominant run stopper like Dolac, as evidenced by his 120 tackles and 12.0 tackles for loss last season. That production isn’t always easy to replace, but Buffalo has several options to fill that void.
The practical choice is Joe Andreessen, who posted Dolac-esque numbers at the FCS level last year. Playing at Bryant, Andreessen notched FCS All-American honors to cap a season which featured 116 tackles. This will be his lone year of eligibility at Buffalo, as the veteran inside linebacker spent five seasons at his prior school before enrolling in December.
If Dolac reinvented himself from a reserve linebacker to the FBS solo tackles leader in the span of a year, Buffalo should be excited about the breakout potential of its other returning linebackers. One expected to flourish this season is Khalil Murdock, who registered six tackles and deflected a pass in five appearances as a true freshman in 2022. Caleb Tate could also play an expanded role at linebacker after serving as a reliable special teams presence over the last three seasons, accumulating nine tackles as a junior last fall.
The additional depth in the linebacker room consists of JUCO transfer Gio De Leon, an all-league selection at Cerrito College in California, as well as walk-on Jake Zimmer. The lone true freshman recruited this year was Dion Crawford, who earned two first team all-state selections at Collins Hill High School in Georgia.