Friday’s Bahamas Bowl is the fulfillment of a promise University North Carolina-Charlotte coach Will Healy made when he took over the program this year. Healy pledged to turn his squad around, but not many thought that included getting the university to its first bowl game in school history.
The 49ers and their first-year coach will face SUNY Buffalo at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium in Nassau, Bahamas, and are a 6.5-point underdog. Healy told reporters at Monday’s media press conference he is especially happy for the seniors.
“The biggest thing about it is for the seniors that we have. To be able to experience a bowl game before they leave our place is a big deal,” Healy said. “Now they set the standard and the expectations for teams coming in behind them. It is a great way for them to go out. It’s an exciting year. We had our ups and down this year, but the year we finished on a really strong note has been extremely rewarding.”
Bahamas Bowl Ideal Destination for Buffalo Players
While the 49ers are excited to play their first bowl game, the University at Buffalo has unfinished business from last year. The team played Troy in the Dollar General Bowl, and lost, 42-32.
Bulls coach Lance Leipold told reporters Monday that his team worked hard for another postseason game, and the fact that it’s the Bahamas Bowl is an added bonus.
“We are extremely excited. When we made the announcement, they jumped out of their chairs smiling and talking about how many swim trunks they are bringing and all those things,” Leipold said. “After being here for 48 hours, it is going to be everything and more than what they hoped for. It is going to be a great experience.”
When the team left Western New York it was in the 20s with close to two-feet of snow on the ground.
“When people are talking about 28-30 degrees to come out here to 80 degrees, it is going to be something they are going to welcome,” Leipold said.
Winds Blowing in Buffalo’s Favor
While the weather is much warmer than Buffalo for the Bahamas Bowl, it won’t be perfect conditions. Forecasters are calling for extremely windy conditions, with average winds of 29 mph and possible gusts of 40 mph.
That would definitely be an advantage for Buffalo. The team has a run-first mentality on offense. The Bulls averaged 236 yards a game, and three of the team’s five offensive linemen were named to the All-MAC team.
Healy knows that controlling Buffalo’s ground game is what his defense needs to key on if they are going to win the Bahamas Bowl.
“We have to stop the run,” Healy said. “Their running back has had a phenomenal year. I know they had an injury at quarterback, but the guy that is coming to play for them has been playing extremely well. They have weapons all over.”
UNC-Charlotte will rely on quarterback Chris Reynolds, but trying to stay accurate in windy conditions might be a challenge. As will be overcoming Buffalo’s defense, which is ranked seventh in the country in total yards allowed.
Leipold, though, is not overconfident at all. He pointed out that the 49ers won their last five games.
“They are an extremely hot team right now,” Leipold said. “We are just starting to watch the film. They have an excellent running back, a very talented dual threat quarterback and impressive defending. We have to try contain them the best we can and one way to do that is for us to control the football,”