2022 MAC Football Positional Previews: Buffalo Bulls Offensive Line – Hustle Belt | Hot Mobile Press

No MAC offensive line has changed more since 2020 than the Buffalo-based unit.

Just two years ago, the Bulls were one of 11 semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award for Best Offensive Line in the Nation. It was around this time that Buffalo was building a reputation for dominating the trenches. In the pass protection department, the Bulls allowed just one sack and one sack in an entire 7-game 2020 campaign in their last eight games of 2019. In the run-blocking area, the line paved the way for the all-MAC running back -Duo of Jaret Patterson, who led the FBS in 2020 in rushing yards per game, and Kevin Marks, who also averaged over 100 yards per game this season.

Even after significant changes from 2020-2021, including the losses of head coach Lance Leipold and offensive line coach Scott Fuchs, Buffalo made their presence felt in the trenches. Head coach Maurice Linguist and offensive line coach Matt Stansfield ensured assertiveness at the line of scrimmage would remain one of the program’s identities. The offensive line ranked 17th on the FBS and second on the MAC with fewest sacks allowed per game — allowing for 16 in 12 contests. Even runblocking remained productive in the post-Jaret Patterson era, when the line led Dylan McDuffie and the running back crew in the nation’s 31st rushing attack.

Now Buffalo must weather another round of big sales. This time, guard Gabe Wallace is the only starter returning to the program in 2022. Notable departures include two-time second-team All-MAC left tackle Jake Fuzak and third-team All-MAC 2021 right guard Jack Klenk — both due to expired eligibility. The other two starters from last fall tested the transfer portal this offseason and found a new home in the Midwest. Center Bence Polgar moved to Missouri in December and right tackle Deondre Doiron faced Leipold again this spring in Kansas.

As such, Wallace is assuming massive leadership within the unit for 2022. Wallace started at right tackle in the first two games of last season before switching to left guard for the remaining 10 contests, so given the lack of experienced tackles on the roster he could quite possibly move outside again.

The only other returning lineman to have a start in Buffalo under his belt is Jack Hasz, who earned the center nod in a Week 4 win over Old Dominion last September. Hasz saw in-game replays at both center and guard, and he’s likely to make the jump to a starter alongside Wallace this season.

With few returning contributors, Buffalo addressed its lack of depth by consulting the transfer portal. Desmond Bessent was a coveted catch from the Portal after starting two games in left tackle for San Diego State — one of the best O-lines in Mountain West. The 6’7”, 305-pound Bessent brings 20 games of experience to Buffalo’s offensive line room and could add instant impact to a team losing both starting tackles.

Also, the Bulls added Isaiah Wright, who spent several seasons as an inside offensive reserve at Rutgers. Additionally, Linguist and his associates recruited the FCS level for linemen, landing VMI’s Nick Hartnett, Cornell’s Will Swope, and Southern Utah’s Artese Gregory. Hartnett was one of the top linemen at the FCS level, earning First Team All-SoCon honors in 2020 and 2021 while serving as a guard and center. Given his dominance at VMI, Hartnett comes to Buffalo as a seasoned starting caliber player to work with Hasz on the inside. Swope also built an impressive resume at his former school, guiding Cornell to a best .9 sacks allowed per game as a full-time starter.

Buffalo’s transfers are likely to compete in position battles with some of the incumbents as the September 3 opener in Maryland nears. Caelan Shepard and Tyler Doty are among the more experienced reserve linemen who added valuable playing experience in 2021. Also, Dom Polizzi, the defensive tackle turn offensive lineman, just received a scholarship this summer and has seen an increase in playing time after serving as a permanent part of a special team during his first year at the helm of Linguist.

A proposed starting line-up consists of Wallace and Bessent in the tackles, while Hasz and Hartnett occupy two of the inside spots – although Wallace may remain on guard. One of the transfers or returning reserves will emerge as the fifth starter at fall camp to complete the unit.

This offensive line group needs to focus on meshing together this offseason, especially given the lack of in-game cohesion shared between its members. But after successfully handling last year’s turnover on the offensive line, Linguist and Stansfield may well have the tools needed to continue Buffalo’s recent tradition of presenting one of the MAC’s elite offensive lines.

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