- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

AMHERST, N.Y. (AP) - Alex Cross had a favor to ask when Ed Orgeron called to congratulate him on becoming the University at Buffalo’s interim football coach.

Cross wondered whether the former Southern California interim coach could deliver a message to his team.

“His message was spot-on,” Cross said Tuesday, a day after Orgeron advised Buffalo players via Skype on the importance of sticking together. “It’s a new start in some regards. And it gives you new life and new excitement about what can happen.”

The interim tag is a first for Cross, Buffalo’s offensive coordinator who took over the top coaching duties after Jeff Quinn was fired last week.

Orgeron, who worked with Cross on Dennis Erickson’s staff at the University of Miami in the early 1990s, is no stranger to dealing with abrupt changes. Last year after replacing Lane Kiffin at USC, he went 7-2, including a Las Vegas Bowl victory.

If Orgeron encouraged success out of turmoil, Cross figures all is not lost at Buffalo (3-4, 1-2 Mid-American Conference). As poorly as the Bulls have played, they’re not entirely out of the playoff picture. They have five games left, and host Central Michigan (4-4, 2-2) on Saturday.

Cross has the potent Joe Licata-led offense at his disposal. The Bulls rank third in the MAC in averaging 33 points and 475.9 yards a game, and they are third in the nation in averaging 34:46 in time of possession.

It’s the defense that has dragged them down and contributed to Quinn’s dismissal less than a year after leading the program to its second bowl appearance. Buffalo is allowing 441 yards offense and 35 points a game, having failed to contain some of the nation’s best and worst teams. Buffalo was blown out 63-21 by No. 12 Baylor, but they also lost 47-39 at Army.

Quinn’s firing came two days following a 37-27 loss to an Eastern Michigan team that had gone 1-15 in its previous games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.

It also doesn’t help that the defense lost several key starters to graduation, including linebacker Khalil Mack, who was selected with the No. 5 pick by the Oakland Raiders.

Cross doesn’t anticipate making roster changes or introducing a new approach, and likes how the players have responded to the coaching change.

“They don’t like it. And they think different things should have happened,” he said. “They understand. Everybody’s taken ownership on what’s transpired.”

Senior nose guard and defensive captain Kristjan Sokoli described Quinn’s firing as shocking, but added that it’s time to put it behind them.

“We’re ready to move forward,” Sokoli said. “I tell the team, ‘Let’s just try to get a win. Remember what that feels like and not worry about the rest.’”

Buffalo athletic director Danny White has launched a national search for Quinn’s successor.

“We’ve got to make sure we do things right and keep up the momentum we’ve built for this program,” White said.

Cross is focusing solely on the rest of the season, because he understands nothing is guaranteed once it’s over.

“In my business, are you kidding me? There’s no security,” Cross said. “Why get uptight about whatever or any of that stuff, because if you don’t win the game, they’re going to get you anyway. So win the game.”

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