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Buffalo coach Gill sees allure of playing Tigers

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | 11:18 p.m. CDT

Buffalo coach Turner Gill has a simple definition for success as a head coach: His name is still on the door to his office.

But when he faced the Missouri Tigers as a player and assistant coach at Nebraska, he defined success as victory. When he thinks about facing Missouri, Gill has reasons to smile.

Sixteen reasons, actually.

As the quarterback of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the early 1980s, Gill had tremendous success against Missouri, winning all three games he started against them and going 4-0 overall. Among those was a 6-0 win in Columbia in 1981, a game Gill considers one of his earliest tests as a starter against a 5-1 Tiger squad.

"The last drive, I believe it was, we marched it down the field in a 0-0 game," Gill said. "We were at about the 4- or 5-yard line and we called a trap play. Phil Bates scored on the last drive. That was my first time playing Missouri as a starter, so that was a special game for me. That was probably the first team that I played that was a very good opponent."

When he returned to Nebraska as an assistant coach in 1992, Gill picked up where he left off. Only once was he on the losing end in 13 years as a quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, a 41-24 victory for Missouri in 2005 that ended Nebraska's 25-year winning streak against the Tigers.

"For the most part, they've been very good memories," Gill said. "I coached there (at Nebraska) for 13 years and played there for four years, so for about 16, 17 years, I've been involved in a game there (against Missouri). For the most part, Nebraska's been on top, so I've had a lot of good experiences there."

In fact, Saturday's game will mark the first time that Gill comes to Columbia as a decided underdog. Buffalo is 2-1 after a last-second win over Temple, but few expect the Bulls to keep up with a Tiger team that has won its first three games by an average of 37 points a game.

"They're experienced," Gill said of the Tigers. "You can see that they are very comfortable in what they're doing offensively, defensively and on special teams. They execute very well, and they have a talented group of guys in every aspect of the game.

"We feel like we have a pretty good football team too, but we're going to have to play almost a perfect football game to have a great chance to win."

For the Bulls, the main benefit of the match-up is exposure that comes with playing a top team. Even though the game will not be televised, which surprised a lot of Buffalo students, excitement is high in western New York for the Bulls' chance to face a team as highly regarded as No. 5 Missouri. The last time Buffalo faced a team in the top five was in 2006, when it lost 38-7 at No. 2 Auburn.

"It's a little buzz around campus," Buffalo receiver Naaman Roosevelt said. "Everybody knows about Missouri, so it's a lot of fun. It's helping us playing Missouri, people are excited for us to go down there, and we're excited too."

Roosevelt found himself thrust into the spotlight this past weekend after catching a last-second touchdown pass that lifted the Bulls over Temple. The grab of the Hail Mary pass from Drew Willy was replayed several times on sports highlight shows, but that attention is uncommon for the Bulls, who have only been a FBS (formely known as Division I) program since 1999. By contrast, several of Missouri's offensive weapons are known nationally.

"You hear about guys like Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin and those guys," Willy said. "You want to be up there with those kind of players. You want to play against the best players in the country. When you go play a top five team and you get that chance, that's all you can really ask for."

Gill's idea of benefits from this game come a little further down the road. Given the task of turning around the Bulls, who won seven games in five years before his arrival, Gill wants to develop his program. He figures that playing in the Midwest might help Buffalo get players that otherwise go to rivals in the Mid-American Conference or to other leagues like the Mountain West and Conference USA.

"It's a great opportunity for us," Gill said. "Everybody needs to know about us. A lot of people don't know much about the University of Buffalo, what is it all about? So maybe there will be one or two people across the country or in Missouri or the Midwest that see us play. Maybe a recruit will now have some interest and will evaluate our institution."

 


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