Homecoming weekends typically take place on a college’s own campus, but Saturday should be the closest two Buffalo Bulls will come to playing a college game in their hometowns.
Buffalo junior linebacker Brandon Pettigrew (University of Buffalo photo)
Junior linebacker Scott Pettigrew and junior defensive back Isaac Baugh were both born and raised in the Nashville area dreaming of playing in Neyland Stadium.
They’ll get their chance tomorrow, but they’ll be wearing blue.
Baugh starts at strong safety, and he’s collected 11 tackles while playing in three of Buffalo’s four games this season.
Pettigrew is listed at second-team inside linebacker, but he seems to play quite a bit. He’s one of the team’s top tacklers off the bench with 14 stops.
“The dream growing up has been playing in Neyland Stadium and we’ve all talked about it before,” Pettigrew, a Thompson’s Station native, told the Buffalo News earlier this week. “It’s just a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s unbelievable.”
Baugh, a Spring Hill native who played with Pettigrew at Independence High School, told the News that Saturday “feels kind of like a homecoming for me.”
“We did not too long ago get the Titans into Nashville but it’s always since when I’ve been brought up, the Vols is where it’s been,” Baugh said. “First time being able to go back home, have everybody in my family actually be able drive and see us play. It’s going to be a good time.”
Pettigrew, who admittedly grew up a Vols fan, told the News that he brought a bunch of blue Buffalo shirts with him during his most recent visit home. He gave them to several friends who go to UT and asked them to wear them for tomorrow’s game.
Buffalo junior safety Isaac Baugh
“There should be a nice patch of blue in the student section,” Pettigrew to the News. “They’ll all be wearing blue, cheering for us.”
Buffalo, regardless of tomorrow’s outcome, will get a $900,000 check from UT for making the trip to Knoxville. That’s a nice boost for an athletic department that reportedly has just a $21 million athletic budget — that’s about 20 percent of many SEC budgets, including Tennessee’s.
The Bulls, who went 2-10 in coach Jeff Quinn’s first season, obviously hope to give deep-pocketed UT more than a glorified scrimmage.
“Our coaches have trained us to fight adversity,” Baugh told the News. “In practice we listen to a whole lot of crowd noise in the background. They’ve done a great job of preparing us for this. Sometimes it does get overwhelming, but once you settle down, get the first-play jitters out of the way, then it’s time to hone in and be aggressive.
“UT’s a great football team. They got a lot of tradition. For us, I think we just need to understand this is another game. We got to prepare just like we prepared for any opponent, whether it’s SEC, the MAC, Big Ten.”
Quinn earlier this week jokingly asked the entire city of Buffalo help prepare the team for Neyland by attending Bulls’ practices and making as much noise as possible.
Anderson still starting: Quinn told reporters after his team’s 17-3 loss to Connecticut on Saturday that senior Chazz Anderson didn’t have “his best night,” and the coach said he’d need to evaluate the film before deciding who would start at quarterback against the Vols.
Quinn ultimately chose to keep Anderson under center.
“He is our starting quarterback ... and he will continue to be our guy,” Quinn said. “He's made our team better. He raises everybody's level of preparation and performance and he wants to make it right. I had a great conversation with him last night again, and this morning.
“Let me just close that out. He's our quarterback, and he's the guy."
Anderson has completed 78 of 133 passes this season for 782 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. He averages 195.5 yards through the air per game, and a majority of his yards have been tossed to 6-foot-4 receivers Alex Neutz (22 catches, 293 yards, one touchdown) and Marcus Rivers (26 catches, 269 yards, one touchdown).
UT must pay attention to Anderson’s legs, too. He’s the Bulls’ second leading rusher this season with 124 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Sacks count against a quarterback’s rushing totals in the college game, so Anderson’s 4.4 yards per carry statistic is a bit deceiving. He’s gained 159 yards on the ground this season but lost 35.
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247