Wisconsin Badgers head coach Luke Fickell watches a drill during fall training camp at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023.

No. 19 Wisconsin, with new coach Luke Fickell, hosts Buffalo

The Luke Fickell era at Wisconsin kicks off when the 19th-ranked Badgers host Buffalo in a non-conference game Saturday in Madison.

Fickell was hired away from Cincinnati, where he went 57-18 in six seasons. In 2021, the 13-0 Bearcats became the first Group of 5 team to reach the College Football Playoff, where they lost to Alabama in the semifinals.

Fickell replaces Paul Chryst, who was fired after a 2 -3 start and replaced on an interim basis by popular defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, a Wisconsin native who played for the Badgers. Leonhard went 4-3 the rest of the regular season and was considered by many to have the inside track.

Fickell, who played at Ohio State and then was a longtime assistant coach with the Buckeyes, spent a decade as the program’s defensive coordinator and was interim head coach in 2011.

“Week 1 is always incredibly intriguing,” Fickell said. “I think obviously in Year 1, it’s even more so. For me, for all of our players. … it’s almost like Christmas morning. You’re preparing for a lot of things, a lot of anxieties. You’re excited about it, but yet there’s a lot of things that you just don’t know from each other.”

Wisconsin, which defeated Oklahoma State 24-17 in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl to close last season, was tabbed to win the Big Ten West in the conference preseason poll, one point ahead of Iowa.

Buffalo finished 5-3 in the Mid-American Conference East last season and 7-6 overall, including a 23-21 victory over Georgia Southern in the Camellia Bowl.

Quarterback is the biggest change for the Badgers, where redshirt senior transfer Tanner Mordecai, a two-year starter at SMU, replaces three-year starter Graham Mertz, who transferred to Florida.

Mordecai, who began his career at Oklahoma, threw 72 touchdown passes in his two seasons at SMU, completing 66.4% of his passes with 22 interceptions.

Junior running back Braelon Allen, a first-team all-conference preseason pick, teams with grad senior Chez Mellusi to power the Badgers signature ground attack. Allen has rushed for 2,510 yards and 23 touchdowns, averaging 6.0 yards per carry, in two seasons.

Allen might not be taking 25 handoffs per game in new offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s system. He arrived from North Carolina with an adaptation of the Air Raid offense expected to lead to more of an aerial display than Wisconsin has traditionally shown.

Senior Chimere Dike led the Badgers last season with 47 receptions for 689 receiving yards and six touchdowns, and the receiving corps was bolstered by transfers Bryson Green from Oklahoma State and CJ Williams from Southern California, along with Will Pauling and Quincy Burroughs from Cincinnati.

The defense will be under coordinator Mike Tressel, who came with Fickell from Cincinnati. Wisconsin allowed 20.2 points and 303.5 yards per game last season.

Junior linebacker Maema Njongmeta, who led the Badgers last season with 95 tackles, including 11.5 for loss, was a first-team preseason all-conference pick.

Center Jake Renfro (foot), another Cincy transfer; tight end Riley Nowakowski (foot); and defensive lineman Isaiah Mullens (knee) are expected to miss the opener.

Buffalo’s offense is led by graduate student Cole Snyder, who began his career at Rutgers. Snyder passed for 3,030 yards last season with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions as the season-long starter for the Bulls.

Redshirt sophomore Mike Washington Jr. was the leading rusher last season with 625 yards and seven rushing touchdowns.

Senior linebacker Shaun Dolac, a first-team all-conference pick last season, led the nation last season with 97 solo tackles. Graduate student safety Marcus Fuqua tied for most interceptions in the country with seven and was a third-team AP All-American.

“So much respect for their coaching staff. Coach Fickell, what he’s been able to do, obviously at Cincinnati, taking a Group of 5 team, I think it was the first Group of 5 team to the College Football Playoffs,” Buffalo coach Maurice Linguist said at the team’s media day.

“Played extremely well, extremely physical. You see high draft picks from their film at Cincinnati. And then certainly so much respect for the Wisconsin program in and of itself. It’s a blueblood. Every year, year in and year out, they’re going to be one of those top 10, top 15, top 20-type programs.”

Wisconsin last played Buffalo in 2006, winning 35-3 in Madison.

— Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Buffalo, New York, USA; Coastal Carolina Chanticleers wide receiver Aaron Bedgood (3) stiff arms Buffalo Bulls safety E.J. Brown (7) during the second quarter of play at UB Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nicholas LoVerde-USA TODAY Sports

No. 16 Coastal Carolina rallies, then holds off Buffalo 28-25

Grayson McCall threw for three touchdowns and No. 16 Coastal Carolina held off host Buffalo for a 28-25 victory Saturday afternoon in Buffalo, N.Y.

The Chanticleers (3-0), playing in their first road game of the season, broke a halftime tie on the way to picking up their eighth straight victory in a regular-season non-conference matchup.

McCall finished 13-for-19 passing for 232 yards with an interception. Teammate Shermari Jones ran for 149 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown.

Buffalo quarterback Kyle Vantrease threw for 146 yards, completing 13 of 20 passes.

McCall threw 6 yards to Isaiah Likely for the go-ahead points on the first possession of the second half.

Then Jones ran in from 1 yard out on the first play of the fourth quarter as Coastal Carolina stretched its lead to 28-17. The Chanticleers needed only 25 yards on that scoring drive because of Alex Spillum’s 50-yard punt return.

But Buffalo (1-2), which was aiming for an upset after last week’s loss at Nebraska, made it tight when Kevin Marks Jr. ran 7 yards for a touchdown and then the Bulls added a two-point conversion on Vantrease’s pass with 2:41 remaining.

The Bulls never got the ball back.

Coastal Carolina ended up with a 460-406 edge in total yards.

The Chanticleers scored first on McCall’s 16-yard strike to Aaron Bedgood.

Buffalo notched the next two touchdowns for a 14-7 lead before Coastal Carolina knotted the score before halftime, aided by McCall’s 17-yard scoring pass play to Jaivon Heiligh.

Buffalo scored on Dylan McDuffie’s 2-yard run and Matt Myers’ 13-yard run. Both of those first-half scoring drives covered more than 80 yards.

Both teams missed field goals before halftime.

It was the first-ever meeting between the teams. It marked the first victory in program history for Coastal Carolina against a member of the Mid-American Conference and against a team from the state of New York.

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost on the field prior to the game against the Fordham Rams at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Adrian Martinez leads Nebraska past Buffalo

Adrian Martinez accounted for 354 yards of total offense while Gabe Ervin and Samori Toure each scored two touchdowns as Nebraska overwhelmed Buffalo 28-3 on Saturday afternoon in Lincoln, Neb.

Martinez, a fourth-year junior, threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns on 13-of-19 passing and ran for 112 yards. It was his seventh career 100-yard rushing game and put him over 2,000 for his career, the fifth Nebraska quarterback to reach that number.

Ervin, a true freshman, scored on runs of 2 and 1 while Toure hauled in a pair of 68-yard touchdown passes from Martinez.

Nebraska (2-1) had a chance for points on its first two drives but its own mistakes negated any scoring. Connor Culp hit the upright on a 32-yard field goal on the Cornhuskers’ first possession, the first of three misses for the reigning Big Ten Kicker of the Year, and an offensive pass interference call wiped out a 44-yard touchdown catch by Toure.

The ‘Huskers finally broke through midway through the second quarter when, after eluding a sack in the backfield, Martinez scrambled for a 71-yard gain. One play later, Ervin scored from 2 yards out.

Martinez then connected with Toure on a 68-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half to give Nebraska a 14-0 lead at the break.

Buffalo (1-1) got on the board with 9:17 left in the third quarter on a 45-yard field goal by Alex McNulty, tying his career high. McNulty was 1 for 4 on field goals, missing from 52, 50 and 42.

An interception by Nebraska linebacker Luke Reimer, who made a tackle on a fourth down play in the first half to thwart a Buffalo drive, set up Ervin’s second TD on a 1-yard run with 14:47 left in the fourth.

Toure’s second long scoring reception, with 5:53 left in the fourth, came one play after Buffalo opted for a field-goal attempt down 21-3.

Nebraska has given up only 10 points in two games since losing 30-22 at Illinois to open the season. The three points yielded against Buffalo are the fewest since a 24-3 win over Michigan State in 2011.

It was the 377th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium, which set a record for hottest temperature at kickoff at 95 degrees.

–Field Level Media

Sep 7, 2019; University Park, PA, USA; Buffalo Bulls quarterback Kyle Vantrease (7) throws a pass during a warm up practice prior to the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Buffalo 45-13. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo’s late score secures bowl win over Marshall

Kevin Marks’ 2-yard touchdown run with 1:09 left Friday enabled Buffalo to claim a 17-10 win over Marshall in the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.

The score capped a 13-play, 88-drive that ate up 6:18. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease played a key role, hitting on 5 of 6 passes for 60 yards, including a 12-yarder to Antonio Nunn that set up the Bulls (6-1) at the Thundering Herd 1.

Two plays later, Marks powered in against a defense that let him score in order to save time for the offense’s last gasp. It capped a 35-carry, 138-yard day for Marks against the nation’s second-ranked run defense. Vantrease completed 16 of 27 passes for 140 yards and an interception.

Marshall (7-3) nearly forced overtime, reaching the Buffalo 20 with 30 seconds left. But freshman quarterback Grant Wells was sacked for a 4-yard loss by Eric Black on 4th-and-11 from the 21-yard line with three seconds left to seal the outcome.

Wells hit on 13 of 20 passes for 114 yards, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Herd from ending the season with a three-game losing streak.

Neither offense got going in the first quarter, which wasn’t a surprise. Both played without their star running backs. Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson sat out with a knee injury, while Marshall’s Brenden Knox opted to forego the bowl game to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

But the Bulls put together a nice drive late in the first quarter and cashed it in just 3:17 into the second quarter as Vantrease kept a read option for a 1-yard touchdown. Buffalo made it 10-0 with 5:33 left in the half on Alex McNulty’s 25-yard field goal, the team’s first of the year.

After collecting just 37 yards on their first three possessions, the Thundering Herd finally responded just before halftime. They marched 75 yards on 12 plays, with Knowledge McDaniel powering in from the 2 with 42 seconds remaining to cut the Bulls’ edge to 10-7.

–Field Level Media

Dec 22, 2018; Mobile, AL, United States; Buffalo Bulls running back Jaret Patterson (26) carries for a touchdown against the Troy Trojans during the first quarter in the 2018 Dollar General Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Marshall, Buffalo look to rebound in Camellia Bowl

Marshall and Buffalo have experienced similar football seasons.

Both started with long winning streaks that thrust them into the Top 25 and led to dreams of playing in more lucrative bowl games.

However, the Thundering Herd and Bulls picked the wrong time to stumble, leading to their convergence at Montgomery, Ala., on Christmas Day in the Camellia Bowl.

Marshall (7-2) was ranked as high as 15th after jumping out to a 7-0 start behind a staunch defense and the poised play of freshman quarterback Grant Wells. But the defense slipped just a bit and Wells struggled with turnovers and inconsistency.

After tossing five interceptions in a shutout loss in the regular-season finale against Rice, Wells completed just 8 of 24 pass attempts in the Dec. 18 Conference USA title game. UAB held Marshall scoreless in the first half and earned a 22-13 victory.

“Offensively, we have to play with more confidence,” Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday said. “We are not making the plays we were making before.”

Nor is the Marshall defense stopping others from making plays, as it had most of the year. UAB owned the ball for more than 41 minutes and finished with 468 total yards, collecting 21 first downs and rushing for 216 yards against the nation’s second-ranked run defense (88.9 yards per game).

Spencer Brown’s 149 yards ended the Herd’s streak of nine consecutive games without allowing 100 yards on the ground.

“We all know what we have to do, and we all know what happened,” Marshall linebacker Eli Neal said. “We all won as a team when we were winning and on our high horse and we lost as a team. That doesn’t make us any less of a team. The pieces just didn’t fall together.”

The Thundering Herd likely will build their bowl offense around running back Brenden Knox, who rushed for 887 yards in nine games and needs 148 to reach 3,000 for his career.

Buffalo went into the Mid-American Conference title game as a heavy favorite over Ball State after going 5-0 behind the sterling running of Jaret Patterson. But the Bulls coughed up 35 first-half points and couldn’t play catch-up in the second half of a 38-28 defeat to the Cardinals in Detroit.

Patterson, whose 301- and 409-yard games in consecutive weeks against Bowling Green and Kent State that put him on the periphery of the Heisman Trophy race, was held to 47 yards on 18 carries by Ball State. He also injured his right knee and was limited during the second half.

According to Bulls coach Lance Leipold, Patterson plans to play on Friday.

“We’ll see where it’s at, we’ll have to look at it,” Leipold said. “We’ll have to get to work on it and see where we’re at from an availability standpoint.”

Kyle Vantrease has been an efficient passer for the Bulls, hitting 63 percent of his passes for 1,186 yards with seven touchdowns and only two interceptions.

This will be the first time the teams have met since 2004, when Marshall was in the MAC. The Herd won that contest 48-14.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2016; DeKalb, IL, USA; A detailed view of the Buffalo Bulls helmet before the game against the Northern Illinois Huskies at Huskie Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo has 25 COVID-19 positives, 19 in football

The University of Buffalo on Tuesday announced 25 positive tests for COVID-19 among its athletic program, with 19 of the positives within the football program.

The school has suspended activities among its football, volleyball and women’s soccer programs, after the outbreak mushroomed when one student athlete reported having COVID-19 symptoms last week.

A total of 322 athletes at the school were tested, leading to the 25 cases. Five of the positives were in the volleyball program while there was one in women’s soccer.

“With the rigorous health protocols we have in place, and with the dedicated commitment of our student-athletes and athletics staff, we will continue to protect our student-athletes, the UB campus community and the community at large,” athletic director Mark Alnutt said a statement to The Buffalo News.

The Mid-American Conference just agreed last week to play a six-game football schedule that would start Nov. 4, with practice beginning next week. According to The Buffalo News, the teams hope they can resume activities on Monday, following further evaluation of the health status of each team.

Buffalo’s football team went 8-5 last season and was 5-3 in MAC play. The Bulls defeated Charlotte 31-9 in the Bahamas Bowl to end the season on a three-game winning streak.

–Field Level Media