NCF Nation: Alex Neutz

Big East weekend rewind: Week 5

October, 1, 2012
One last look back at the weekend that was in the Big East.

The good: The Big East went 3-1 Saturday, improving to 4-3 against the ACC this season and even exacting a bit of revenge against the MAC, as UConn topped Buffalo at home. This was the final real nonconference weekend for the Big East, and by and large it did not disappoint.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisThe Cardinals and Teddy Bridgewater played through horrendous conditions to eke out a win.
The bad: South Florida had the conference's lone loss, though the Bulls put forth a valiant effort against the No. 4 team in the country. UConn and Louisville both had offensive shortcomings but managed to come away with wins against far inferior opponents.

The ugly: The Southern Miss field. Woof.

The clutch: Munchie Legaux connected with Damon Julian for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left, leading Cincinnati to an upset over Virginia Tech. More consistency is needed for Legaux, but he took a huge step forward with the pressure and spotlight on him. Props to Julian for bouncing back from a dropped touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter as well.

The scare: Louisville barely beat a winless Conference USA opponent in a game said opponent completed only two passes. And the Cardinals needed a botched punt to set up their game-winning touchdown drive. Yes, the conditions were awful, and the defense deserves plenty of credit. But this would have been as bad a loss as the conference could have had, regardless of the field, as the preseason No. 1 team survived a scare from a Southern Miss team in its first year under a new regime.

The improvement: The numbers may not exactly reflect it, but USF's defensive line played a strong game against Florida State. The Seminoles rushed for 183 yards, one week after they rushed for 287 in a win over Clemson. Yes, the Bulls lost a third straight game, but a defense that had trouble at Ball State played much better against a potential national title contender, and this is something the team can build on as it enters conference play.

The gutsy call(s): Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn called for an onside kick following his team's first touchdown, one it recovered. In the third quarter, Alex Zordich hit Alex Neutz with a short pass, with Neutz then lateraling the ball to Brandon Murie for a 50-yard hook-and-ladder touchdown. The risk-taking almost paid off, as the Bulls climbed back from a 17-point deficit at UConn and had a chance to drive for the win at the end.

UConn survives scare from Buffalo

September, 29, 2012
The final margin isn't what anyone in Connecticut would have hoped for, but the Huskies managed to hold off Buffalo in their final nonconference test, 24-17.

UConn's offense got into the kind of rhythm early that it needed to before entering Big East play, as Chandler Whitmer completed 15 of 22 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown. Lyle McCombs rushed for 97 yards and a score, and Martin Hyppolite added 60 yards on six carries, including a 50-yard scoring run early in the second quarter for a 17-7 lead.

The Huskies had a 24-7 lead late in the third quarter, but their offense stalled down the stretch, netting just 27 total yards in the fourth quarter as the Bulls mounted a comeback. Alex Zordich hooked up with Alex Neutz, who then tossed the ball back to Brandon Murie for a 50-yard hook-and-ladder score in the third. The Bulls added a field goal late and got the ball for one last drive before Yawin Smallwood stuffed Zordich on fourth-and-4 from the Buffalo 39 to ice the game.

The hook-and-ladder was one of several wrinkles Buffalo tossed in throughout the afternoon, including a recovered onside kick following its first touchdown. But the Bulls' offense couldn't do much until the fourth quarter. They went for another onside kick following a late field goal and, despite not recovering, forced a three-and-out to get one last shot.

UConn's offense struggled late, and it failed to take advantage of generous field position down the stretch. But it took control early and did not turn the ball over, small steps for a maligned unit that still has plenty of work to do when conference play begins next week at Rutgers.

What to watch in the MAC this spring

February, 16, 2010
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each team in the MAC heading into the spring:

Akron Zips

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

" New head coach Rob Ianello takes over an Akron squad that hasn’t had a winning season since 2005. The Zips struggled last year averaging 19.25 points per game on offense and gave up 28.75 points per game on defense. This spring's goal will be to find playmakers to bring both sides of the ball on par with the rest of the league.

" The Zips had a running back by committee system last year, but none of their backs had more than 250 yards. Two of the team’s top three rushers are gone and the rest are freshmen and sophomores. Ianello signed five tailbacks in his first class.

" The defense struggled to put pressure on the quarterback as the Zips finished with 11 sacks. Opponents scored touchdowns on 66 percent of opportunities inside the red zone. Shoring up the defensive line and the linebackers will be an emphasis this spring.

Ball State Cardinals

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

" Sophomore quarterback Kelly Page tries to regain the starting role after missing the second half of the season with thumb surgery. The Cardinals were winless with him in the lineup, but he improved as the season progressed. Redshirt freshman Aaron Mershman will vie for the role in the spring before highly-touted recruit Keith Wenning joins the competition in the fall.

" Running back MiQuale Lewis and tight end Madaris Grant are both awaiting word from the NCAA about a possible sixth season. Both are team leaders and are the top players at their respective positions.

" Losing defensive coordinator Doug Graber is a blow to the Cardinals. Although he was only with the team for a season, the defense was one of the team's bright spots and got better as the season progressed. The Cardinals have yet to name a replacement.

Bowling Green Falcons

Spring practice starts: March 19

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:

" Replacing quarterback Tyler Sheehan will be one of the biggest chores since he took 95 percent of the snaps for the past three seasons. Aaron Pankratz was the backup last year and the leader heading into spring. But redshirt Matt Schiltz, walk-on Kellen Pagel and December enrollee Caleb Watkins will all be in the mix.

" Freddie Barnes was the Falcons best offensive weapon and it will be hard to find a replacement. Overall, the Falcons lose three of their top five receivers, and one of those returning is running back Wille Geter.

" Rebuilding the defense will be a priority after losing seven players, including the entire line backers corps and three-fourths of the secondary. There is a lot of young talent waiting, it is just a matter of gelling during spring ball.

Buffalo Bulls

Spring practice starts: March 20

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

" Losing quarterback Zach Maynard, who decided to transfer last month, hurt their offense. He would have been the starter heading into the season, but now sophomore Jerry Davis and redshirt freshman Alex Dennison will duke it out this spring before two freshmen arrive in August.

" The Bulls have to replace top receivers Naaman Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin and have several candidates to do so. Juniors Terrell Jackson, Marcus Rivers and Ed Young, and redshirt freshmen Fred Lee and Alex Neutz will compete for playing time.

" New head coach Jeff Quinn is going to install a more wide-open offensive system at Buffalo, however finding the right guys to play it will be a challenge. There are athletes remaining at Buffalo, but the loss of players such as Maynard and Roosevelt will make the transition slower.

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