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Buffalo secondary ripe for the picking

by Rob Peirce

SPORTS WRITER

Some Marshall fans might think Byron Leftwich's touchdown-interception ratio of 11-to-5 is high. Buffalo's Mark Graham already has three picks this year. The two meet again Saturday with a marked past.

Graham had one of the Bulls' two interceptions of Leftwich last year in the Thundering Herd's 34-14 victory in Amherst, N.Y. And he remembers the play distinctly.

He was defending Darius Watts on a post pattern, and Leftwich didn't lead him well with the pass.

"I was trying to bait Leftwich into throwing," Graham said. "I was right behind (Watts') shoulder pads, and I jumped right in front of him."

Graham was a cornerback last year and has since moved to play free safety. He was injured against Minnesota but is expected back Saturday.

Graham's key to stopping Leftwich lies not in the secondary but with the defensive line.

"We have to get some pressure on that guy, or he's going to pick us apart all night," he said. "We're going to have to play even from sideline to sideline."

The secondary returns three starters. The linebacking corps lacks experience, but the one returner, middle linebacker Lamar Wilcher, leads the team in tackles with 47.

He also has been hurt with an injured hand, but he's been playing in a cast which looks like a club ever since the injury and has had more intensity since, Buffalo coach Jim Hofher said.

"We're still working there," Hofher said of his defense. "We've got a long way to go. I don't think I can sit there and say we have a strength on defense."

Even so, the Bulls are up for the challenge of trying to stop the nation's most productive offensive team.

"That's why you play this game is to play the best," Graham said.

Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at rpeirce@exponent-telegram.com.