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BULLS' DEFENSE OF MAC EAST TITLE IS OVER
Loss to Miami (Ohio) means UB has no shot at a conference championship
Image from UBBulls.com
It’s been a long time since I studied English at the University at Buffalo. The memories of those days are hazy, although I remember fighting the wind on that uphill walk to Clemens Hall, and snoozing on the commuter bus between campuses.
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
A whimper, indeed. The game was essentially uncompetitive after Buffalo tied the score, 7-7, on junior RB Dylan McDuffie’s 10-yard touchdown run at 7:10 of the first quarter. Miami proceeded to unleash a 31-3 run through the end of the third quarter, building a 28-point lead—the sixth time this season UB’s been down by 18 or more points.
Any lingering chance the Bulls (4-6 overall, 2-4 in the Mid-American Conference) at defending their MAC East title evaporated with Tuesday’s loss.
It’s a shame. Beating the RedHawks (5-5, 4-2) would have moved Buffalo into second place—one game behind division-leading Kent State (5-5, 4-2).
Instead, Miami’s tied for first place. The Golden Flashes lost by 24 points to Central Michigan on Wednesday night.
Still would have been a long shot for UB, but not impossible. Now it is.
Yes, Buffalo can still be bowl-eligible by winning its final two games.
The odds of knocking off both the cardiac kids of Northern Illinois (7-3, 5-1), leaders of the MAC West, and Ball State (5-5, 3-3)?
ESPN’s Football Power Index says there’s a 22.8% chance to win out. Still not great, but if you squint really hard, you can almost see the possibility.
But you can’t—not really. Not when you consider the way opponents have simply steamrolled UB’s defense since fall arrived.
Buffalo’s surrendered 1,035 yards in total offense over the past two games, and 1,668 yards in its three most recent losses. They’ve spotted their opponents leads of at least 18 points in each of those three defeats—and in one of the two victories sandwiched in between.
Some of that’s on the offense, once again reliant nearly exclusively on McDuffie and fifth year senior WR Quian Williams. Even so, the complete inability to consistently get stops, a troubling trend dating back to the second half of a Week 4 win over Old Dominion, has tanked this season. Senior LB James Patterson, one of the nation’s most efficient tackling machines, can only do so much.
The killer here is the secondary, which allows over 12 yards per completed pass and has picked off only three balls this season. In 10 games, this last line of defense has allowed 46(!) pass plays for 30 yards or more, including 12 40+ yard passes and nine 50+ yard passes.
That’s about as bad as it gets in FBS. You can’t win like that.
What did we see on Tuesday? Exactly what you’d expect.
We saw Miami stunt on Buffalo from the jump, completing a 58-yard flea flicker for a touchdown on its first offensive play of the game.
We saw sophomore QB Brett Gabbert slice up the defensive backfield for 351 yards and four touchdowns.
We saw two RedHawks receivers—Jalen Walker and Jack Sorenson—combine to catch 12 balls for 248 yards. Fellow wideout Mac Hippenhammer, a former Penn State receiver, added four more catches for 63 yards.
Some of this is lack of a pass rush. UB got to Gabbert twice, but he still completed 75% of his passes.
It’s not like the front seven are shutting down the run game, though. Miami racked up 185 yards and two rushing TDs on Tuesday. That’s nothing new—the run defense has allowed 200+ yards in six of the past eight games. In nine contests against FBS opponents, Buffalo’s allowed an average of 193 rushing yards.
That’s not great, of course, but 36 FBS teams (including the Bulls and fellow MAC members Kent State, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, and Ohio) rush for over 193 yards per game. College offenses can run the ball.
Catastrophe has struck too many times because of inexplicably gaping holes in the secondary, cringeworthy missed tackles in run support, teeth-grinding mental mistakes, and spring-practice blown coverages that continue to happen, week after week. It’s made everything bad about this defense significantly worse.
I don’t enjoy slagging the team. As a fan, I can handle losing—I’ve been a Buffalo sports fan my entire life, for God’s sake—it’s the collapse that I hate to see. I’m tired of watching this team get embarrassed on national television.
There are two games left. Let’s not worry about bowl eligibility. Head coach Maurice Linguist preaches the gospel of going 1-0 every week. That works for me. Let’s see a 60-minute effort in the final home game of the season against a Northern Illinois team that is somehow ranked lower than the Bulls in ESPN’s Football Power Index. Let’s see some progress.
No Expansion: The MAC Remains The Same
From the MAC’s website (the tastefully named getsomemaction.com):
The Mid-American Conference (MAC) announced today that it will not pursue membership expansion at this time. The decision was made after study of the collegiate athletics environment and dialogue among the directors of athletics and presidents of the 12 member institutions.
“Following analysis and evaluation by the membership, it has been determined our best interests are served in the Conference remaining at 12 full member institutions,” said Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher. “For some time we have been examining the FBS landscape, and certainly our discussions have been more focused over the past several months as our Conference was contacted by other institutions. While a number of institutions have expressed interest, we never requested any institution to apply for membership nor did we have a formal or informal vote concerning any institutions.”
“Our focus will continue to be on building upon the strengths of our Conference – providing a student-centered academic and athletics experience, celebrating long-standing relationships and rivalries, and maintaining our tight geographic proximity to one another,” Steinbrecher added. “Today’s announcement is intended to end the speculation that has been occurring.”
Recognizing the dynamic environment of higher education and intercollegiate athletics, the Mid-American Conference will continue to monitor the membership landscape.
Tony Paul from The Detroit Free Press had a little more info on the subject, noting “MAC athletic directors met via conference call Wednesday afternoon, after word that Middle Tennessee planned to stay with Conference USA,” and “the statement comes hours after Middle Tennessee, one university that expressed interest in joining the MAC, decided it would stay with Conference USA.”
This may also be important:
Adding additional member schools would force the MAC to further divide its payout from its ESPN deal, which runs through 2026-27. The deal is barely profitable for the member schools with 12 members.
Burying the lede a bit there, Tony!