University at Buffalo football coach Lance Leipold doesn’t want motivation — or lack thereof — to become an issue as his team prepares for a must-win game Friday at Bowling Green.
If motivation is an issue this week, then that means Leipold and his staff haven’t done their job. UB plays in one of its most important games in program history, when it closes the regular season at noon Friday at Bowling Green.
The Bulls (9-2, 6-1 MAC) need to win Friday at Bowling Green (3-8, 2-5) to win the MAC East Division title and earn a berth in the MAC championship game Nov. 30 in Detroit. The Bulls lost a chance to win the division title last week after a 52-17 loss at Ohio.
“We have to get them motivated to have a chance to play for a conference championship,” Leipold said. “Everything that goes into what this game is, it’s everything that this group has talked about wanting to accomplish. Many, since the day they arrived on campus.
“Even since they returned to campus in January, after being left out of a bowl game, they wanted this opportunity. If you’re going to put in all this time and everything that you have to do, why aren’t you going to do it to your fullest? We have that opportunity to do that.”
The Bulls know what’s at stake Friday at Doyt Perry Stadium, but Leipold makes a point to his team in the final days of the regular season: Don’t overemphasize one game, even if it is a must-win.
“We want our guys to play the way they’ve played the majority of this season,” Leipold said. “Loose, aggressive. We have to execute. But if we go out there and we’re tight and we’re afraid to make mistakes because we made plenty of them last week, and, ‘oh boy, here we go again,’ we’re going to have a tough day.
“We have to go out and play the game the way we’ve been playing it. Making it any more than what it’s been, I think it would be counterproductive to us.”
Carl Pelini, Bowling Green’s interim coach, is also well aware of what the Bulls will play for. Pelini is a former coworker of Leipold; Pelini was a graduate assistant at Nebraska in 2003 at the same time Leipold was a recruiting coordinator on Frank Solich’s staff.
“I’m just so impressed with his team and how disciplined they are and how physical they are,” Pelini said of UB on the MAC coaches teleconference on Monday. “I know his team, whether it was (playing) for the MAC championship or not, his team is going to show up ready to play, and give us everything they’ve got.”
The Bulls entered Tuesday one game ahead of Ohio and Miami (Ohio) for the MAC East Division lead. Miami and Ohio are 5-2 in MAC play, and Miami closed the regular season Tuesday night against Ball State in Oxford, Ohio. Ohio hosts Akron in its regular-season finale Nov. 23 at Peden Stadium in Athens.
If Ohio defeats Akron and Miami and Buffalo lose, then Ohio wins the MAC East.
If Ohio loses Friday, Buffalo wins the MAC East.
If Miami wins Tuesday and if the Bulls lose at Bowling Green and the Bobcats beat Akron on Friday, Miami wins the MAC East on the basis of head-to-head competition, by virtue of its 30-28 win Nov. 7 against Ohio. A loss to Ball State eliminates Miami from MAC East contention.
“It isn’t going to be easy,” Leipold said. “That’s where we have to make sure that we play well.”