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Can You Figure Out The 2021 Bulls?
Then you write this newsletter, because I can't.
Image from KentStateSports.com
The product delivered on Saturday was, quite frankly, embarrassing. Second-rate.
We saw a team that was totally unprepared and, unsurprisingly, got a performance riddled with ridiculous mistakes. An inexcusable display from an allegedly first-rate organization.
I am, of course, talking about the work of ESPNU broadcast team Drew Carter and Hutson Mason, the duo assigned to Kent State’s 48-38 home win over our Buffalo Bulls. I turned them off after the first half and used Learfield Communications’ Varsity Network app to listen to UB’s Paul Peck and Scott Wilson, two guys who actually know what they’re talking about.
Good Luck Figuring Out the 2021 Bulls.
Say this for the 2021 Bulls: they never leave you with a clear narrative.
Tally the first, second, and fourth quarters of its latest defeat and UB (2-4, 0-2) was outscored 45-10. The Golden Flashes (3-3, 2-0) posted 633 yards of total offense in the game, including QB Dustin Crum’s 407 passing yards and a trio of touchdown passes to WR Dante Cephas. That’s a beating.
From Crum’s 56-yard completion to Keshunn Abram on the game’s first play to the Andrew Glass field goal as the final seconds ticked away, KSU dominated the first half en route to a 31-10 lead.
Flashes head coach Sean Lewis looked well-positioned to keep his foot on the #FlashFAST gas and avenge the 70 points UB hung on his team last season.
But that third quarter!
It was everything we thought, and may still think, the Bulls’ offense can be.
Buffalo outscored Kent State, 28-3, on scoring plays that included a 16-yard Kevin Marks run, a nine-yard Kyle Vantrease pass to Jake Molinich, a four-yard run by QB Matt Myers, and a 10-yard burst by Dylan McDuffie.
UB rushed for 178 yards in third quarter, en route to 312 rushing yards in the game. Vantrease threw for 77 of his 237 passing yards. The Bulls climbed the mountain, turning that 31-10 deficit into a 38-34 lead heading into the final 15 minutes.
The problem, of course, is the Flashes also scored on three consecutive second-half possessions. Those 17 points were the difference in the game.
Buffalo couldn’t keep up the pace, failing to complete a pair promising drives. Kicker Alex McNulty badly missed field goal attempts on each.
They wouldn’t have been enough, anyway.
The bottom line is that Buffalo (2-4, 0-2) lost. They’re two full games out of first place in the MAC East. Theoretically, we should see a team that got smoked for nearly 75% of the game, and start wondering when the basketball season starts.
And yet…there’s hope.
Look at the rest of Saturday’s results from the MAC East. Miami (Ohio) lost. Bowling Green lost, too. Akron won, oddly enough, but Ohio lost (again).
Is it crazy to think, if the Third Quarter Bulls start showing up in the weeks ahead, this team can reel off four straight before deciding their postseason fate against a pair of tough MAC West opponents—Northern Illinois and Ball State?
Right now, it’s completely doable. Here’s what we need to see for The Comeback to happen:
The secondary must tighten up immediately. It’s one thing when the opposing offense wins the chess match. It’s something else when they simply run right past the defense, which is what Cephas, Abram, and fellow WR Nykeim Johnson did against UB’s defensive backs. Buffalo head coach Maurice Linguist made his bones over the past 15 years as coaching DBs, and he can’t be happy with what he’s seeing. He and cornerbacks coach DeAndre Thompson need to get these guys right.
Bottle whatever changed with the running game. After banging its collective head against the wall for the past two games, the Bulls’ backfield—its superpower over the past two seasons—finally reemerged. McDuffie ran for 87 yards and added another 32 receiving yards, Marks bullied his way to 80 yards on the ground, and Cook posted 107 all-purpose yards. Offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery effectively worked QB Matt Myers into the game, and Vantrease even broke off 49 rushing yards, including a 24-yard amble. UB doesn’t need to go for 300+ every game, but they need consistent backfield production to be win games. Last night, in suburban Cleveland, the unit reminded us how special they can be.
They just gotta go for it, man. This is a veteran bunch. On offense, the list of senior or fifth-year players include Vantrease, Marks, and Molonich; WRs Quian Williams, Jovanny Ruiz (out for the fourth consecutive game), and Dominic Johnson; and OLs Jack Klenk and Jake Fuzak. On the other side of the ball, players in the same situation include linemen Taylor Riggins, Eric Black, and Josh Rogers; LBs Kadofi Wright, Tim Terry, and James Patterson; and DBs Aapri Washington, E.J. Brown, Isaiah King, Ja’Marcus Ingram, and Dylan Powell. And who knows what the transfer portal holds? Yes, there are plenty of impact underclassmen on this team (think McDuffie, Cook, DE Daymond Williams, OL Bence Polgar, etc.), but there’s no reason to think Linguist is considering a youth movement. These players have won a lot of games over the past couple seasons. It’s MAC East or bust until it isn’t.
Coming Up Next…
We have Ohio at UB Stadium next week, a team that’s 1-5 overall and 1-1 in the conference. Very winnable game. Then, it’s a trip to Akron, another opponent Buffalo should fine eminently beatable. Just like that, we could be .500 again, and take it from there.
Let’s not give up yet.
What They’re Saying: Bulls Media Chatter
Rachel Lenzi of The Buffalo News reports Linguist is sticking with McNulty as kicker (for now) despite two more misses (he’s 5-of-11 on the season, and 5-of-7 on PATs). He also remains optimistic about the season ahead. “Kent State is a good football team, but I believe we’re one, too,” Lenzi quoted Linguist as saying after the game. “As hard as that is to digest, I believe we’re better than what our record is. I believe we have what it takes to get ourselves in postseason play but I believe we just have to continue to choose the daily, hard decisions, to choose to do the little things daily, the right way, and I believe that when all the dust is settled and the smoke is cleared, we’re going to be in a very healthy place, as a program, although things are difficult right now.”
Hunter Skoczylas of The UB Spectrum praised Vantrease, a whipping boy for last week’s moribund offense in the 24-17 loss to Western Michigan. “Vantrease improved drastically from last week’s performance, as he threw for 229 yards and one touchdown while also moving the chains with his legs, carrying the ball seven times for 60 (gross) yards,” Skoczylas wrote. “Eastern Michigan transfer and graduate wide receiver Quian Williams continues to be the Bulls’ primary playmaker in the passing game, catching eight balls for 86 yards, including key chunk plays to facilitate the third quarter scoring explosion.”
Hustle Belt’s Steve Helwick put the game in perspective. “The Golden Flashes have not qualified for the MAC Championship Game since 2012, but they currently control the East the only 2-0 team in the division…Meanwhile, (the) Bulls once again entered the final frame with a lead but the defense couldn’t sustain it. Buffalo has been outscored 31-7 in fourth quarters through two games of MAC play.”
Recapping the #MACtion: Week 6 in Review
Image from niuhuskies.com
Wild day in college football yesterday! We had the Bulls’ Jekyll and Hyde performance; a shocking Alabama loss to Texas A&M; an absolutely classic Oklahoma win over Texas; Ole Miss and Arkansas’ remarkable offensive display (and offensive defensive display) in the Rebels’ 52-51 win; Wake Forest’s 40-37 OT defeat of Syracuse; Notre Dame’s last-second FG to take down Virginia Tech; Virginia answering Louisville’s 20-0 third quarter outburst with a 21-3 fourth quarter explosion to steal a 34-33 win…that’s just off the top of my head.
So what happened in the MAC? Let’s take a look:
Northern Illinois 22, Toledo 20. The Huskies (4-2, 2-0) sit atop the MAC West with a big win over a Rockets (3-3, 1-1) team expected to be their top competition in the division. NIU K John Richardson booted five FGs. A bit of a wild one, according to ESPN.com:
In a game that saw six lead changes, Toledo (3-3, 1-1) used Dequan Finn's 11-yard TD toss to Devin Maddox to grab a 20-19 lead with 3:35 left to play. The Rockets were stopped on their two-point try. Rocky Lombardi took over from there, directing a nine-play, 60-yard game-winning drive. A pass interference penalty and Lombardi's 34-yard strike to Tyrice Richie on back-to-back plays gave the Huskies (4-2, 2-0) the ball at the Rockets' 7-yard line, setting the stage for Richardson.
Akron 35, Bowling Green 20. Upset of the day! BGSU (2-4, 0-2) entered this game 13.5-point favorites and jumped out to a 20-0 lead before the Zips (2-4, 1-1) roared back. Third-string freshman QB Zach Gibson went 14-of-15 for 177 passing yards after he replaced injured starter Kato Nelson, who was, in turn, playing in place of injured starter DJ Irons. A well-earned victory for an Akron team that lost by 52 to Ohio State and 17 to previously winless Ohio over the past two weeks.
Eastern Michigan 13, Miami (Ohio) 12. The RedHawks fell to 2-4, 1-1 on the season following this road loss to the two-point underdog Eagles (4-2, 1-1), but the real loser was anyone who watched this yawner. EMU QB Ben Bryant threw for 206 yards and a TD in the win, buoying an offense that only managed 51 net yards on the ground. Miami QB AJ Mayer’s fourth-down pass attempt from midfield was knocked down with 1:52 remaining in the game, allowing the home team to run down the clock for the victory. Thrilling!
Ball State 45, Western Michigan 20. WMU entered the game as 12.5-point favorites. Where did this come from? A week after the Broncos (4-2, 1-1) handled UB in Buffalo, their four-game winning streak was snapped by the frisky Cardinals (3-3, 1-1). A week after taking down 9.5-point favorite Army, Ball State hung 21 fourth quarter points on the home team to turn this one into a blowout. Cards QB Drew Plitt tossed for 310 yards and four touchdowns while much-heralded Western Michigan QB Kaleb Eleby was held to 257 yards and two interceptions.
Central Michigan 30, Ohio 27. Ohio was tagged as a 6.5-point favorite, which I wish I would have seen earlier this week (it was a crazy few days, folks. Rest assured I would’ve taken CMU here). The Bobcats (1-5, 1-1) returned to form after beating Akron—the first victory of the Tim Albin era—last week, while the Chips (3-3, 1-1) bounced back from an11-point loss to Miami. The MAC West is weird.