Discover more from UB In 5
LATE NIGHT DROP: Perspective on Buffalo's Loss to WMU. It's Still Not Good.
Yes, it was a close game—but it really wasn't.
Image from wmubroncos.com
A little late with the newsletter this week! Got it out before Tuesday, at least.😬
WMU 24, Buffalo 17: Through The Past, Darkly
Sometimes, you lose and you’re OK. Can’t win ‘em all! You take the L, move on.
Other times, you lose and it shakes your very foundations. Everything you believed—or wanted to believe—is exposed as false. You’re forced to reconsider your expectations, to recalibrate what good looks like.
Buffalo’s 24-17 loss to visiting MAC rival Western Michigan on Saturday was much closer to the latter than the former.
Sure, the Bulls (2-3, 0-1), 6.5-point underdogs, went into the fourth quarter with an improbable 10-7 lead, punched in a touchdown on an eight-play, 1:13 drive with less than three minutes in the game after WMU (4-1, 1-0) seized control with a 17-point flourish, and came tantalizingly close to recovering a prayer of an onside kick with 1:17 left on the clock.
How different would things be, the optimist may ask, if WR Skyy Moore didn’t roast UB cornerback Logic Hudgens for a 64-yard TD at the 9:34 mark of the fourth quarter?
If Buffalo didn’t go three-and-out on four consecutive second half drives?
If the Bulls could get the Broncos off the field just a little earlier earlier on one of their three second-half drives that went at least 10 plays?
Maybe if things broke a little differently, UB would have its first MAC win and Western Michigan wouldn’t be receiving votes for the AP Top 25—more votes than Boston College received, a team that was 4-0 before losing by six points on the road at Clemson on Saturday.
If you’re honest with yourself, though, you know it was worse than it looked.
Buffalo carried that lead into the fourth quarter with all the grace of a teenage shoplifter. The Bulls were winning despite the fact WMU was dominating the game.
Consider these Bronco drives:
18 plays, 8:20 time of possession, field goal from the UB 3
10 plays, 4:22 TOP, missed field goal from the UB 20
17 plays, 8:49 TOP, turnover on downs at the UB 2
10 plays, 3:27 TOP, missed field goal from the UB 26
13 plays, 5:38 TOP, field goal from the UB 9
11 plays, 5:49 TOP, touchdown
That doesn’t include Moore’s TD, a quick strike on a drive that encompassed two plays—the first an incomplete Kaleb Eleby pass that was sweetened by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Buffalo’s Kadofi Wright. The flag was Wright’s second 15-yarder in two games.
Those drives don’t paint the picture of a defense that went blow-for-blow with a highly-regarded offense led by an NFL prospect under center in Eleby, a pair of tough running backs in Sean Tyler and La’Darius Jefferson, and two sharp receivers in Corey Crooms and Moore—all among the leaders in the MAC at their respective positions.
It looks a lot more like an offense that did whatever it wanted all day long.
Now, consider these drives by the Bulls:
6 plays, 2:31 TOP, sack and fumble at the WMU 19
4 plays, 1:50 TOP, punt from the UB 21
4 plays, 1:12 TOP, punt from the UB 42
4 plays, 1:00 TOP, punt from the UB 29
4 plays, 1:12 TOP, punt from the UB 22
Those series encompass five of the six times Buffalo had the ball from 9:19 in the second quarter through the 2:30 in the fourth, excluding a kneel-down to end the first half, and a drive that ended in a field goal to start the third quarter.
That’s the picture of an offense that’s completely out of sorts.
The problem started in the 35-34 win at Old Dominion, where the Buffalo attack could not manage a second half first down.
Without defensive and special teams touchdowns, the Bulls wouldn’t have just lost to the Monarchs—they would’ve been smoked.
Some fans pin the blame squarely on Buffalo’s Kyle Vantrease.
The veteran QB’s numbers were deceptively mediocre on Saturday (12-22, 151 passing yards, one rushing TD). Vantrease was not good, a big reason why Buffalo’s offense was stuck in neutral.
During the aforementioned ugly stretch, Vantrease completed seven passes on 11 attempts for 92 yards, accomplishing very little. He also lost a fumble on his first sack taken of the season.
The running game was completely flat. Sure, 131 net yards on 29 attempts sounds decent—an average of 4.5 yards per attempt!—until you remove Ron Cook Jr.’s 55-yard TD run, and then you’re looking at 2.7 yards per attempt.
What’s going on with Kevin Marks? Where was Dylan McDuffie? Is this o-line just bad?
Regardless, Vantrease needed to be better. He wasn’t. Do I place all the blame on the three-year starter? Eh.
Backup QB Matt Myers, the potential answer to a supposed Vantrease problem, killed a drive at the WMU 12-yard line when he fumbled a third-down snap in the third quarter, leading to a UB field goal.
He’s barely played since 2019, when he saw action in five games.
I wasn’t around WNY to see Myers play his high school ball at Bishop Timon or West Seneca West, but I’m not convinced he’s the answer. Maybe. Is a player with 11 games of experience in three seasons going to step in and run a cleaner operation than Vantrease?
Dual threat or not, it seems hard to believe.
Do I blame the defense? Kind of, yeah.
Sometimes they look great. For most of Saturday, they did make Eleby look average. With the way the Bulls’ offense was collapsing, however, average was just fine.
The problem with the Buffalo defense is those long drives, another issue dating back to the second half of the Old Dominion game. This game could have easily been a rout—whether that’s a credit to a defense that rarely gets to rest, or a case of the Bulls burning up their luck early in the season, is an open question.
So here we are, five games in, 2-3 overall, down 0-1 on MAC play, and a long distance from the optimism of the Coastal Carolina game—a loss that made us feel like maybe UB could play with anyone.
Now, with a road trip to Kent State next week and a home game against a suddenly frisky Ohio squad the week after, it’s an open question whether Buffalo wins a conference game before Akron comes to town on Oct. 23.
The good news: if the Bulls find a way to win next week, and the week after, everything changes. We’re contenders again. Hey, just a win over Kent State would feel like major progress—and Ohio’s win came over a miserable Akron bunch. Let’s not get too excited about the Bobcats yet.
The bad news: two more losses mean the season’s probably over. A 2-5 team that’s 0-3 in MAC play with five conference games remaining is, in all likelihood, a team whose season is going to end on Nov. 23 against Ball State in Muncie.
It’s Oct. 5, and things are already moving fast.
Bulls Media Watch: What They’re Saying After Week 5
Here’s what our friends in the media had to say about the loss to WMU:
Rachel Lenzi of The Buffalo News held a magnifying glass to the fizzling offense: “The lack of offense in the second half was a much bigger culprit, though, than (Wright’s) untimely penalty. The Bulls had multiple opportunities in the second half that would have helped them keep pace with the Broncos. The Bulls, though, were unable to maximize those, a week after finishing with 40 yards on seven second-half drives last weekend in a 35-34 win at Old Dominion. The Bulls amassed 130 yards in the second half, but the bulk of those came on two scoring drives – a 13-play, 62-yard drive that ended with McNulty’s field goal, and a 7-play, 65-yard drive that ended with Vantrease’s 1-yard touchdown run, which cut Western Michigan’s lead to 24-17 with 1:17 left.”
The Associated Press was clinical, as one would expect: “Kaleb Eleby threw a pair of touchdown passes to Skyy Moore and Western Michigan won its fourth straight game, defeating Buffalo 24-17 on Saturday in a Mid-American Conference opener. Eleby hit a streaking Moore with a 64-yard strike to give the Broncos (4-1, 1-0) the lead with 9 1/2 minutes remaining. After Buffalo went three-and-out for the fourth straight possession, the Broncos burned almost six minutes off the clock before La'Darius Jefferson scored from a yard out.”
Hunter Skoczylas and Kayla Sterner of The UB Spectrum got Coach Maurice Linguist’s take on the offense’s woes: “UB was outdone in the time of possession battle, holding onto the football for 13:21, opposed to Western Michigan’s 40:06. (ed. note - Good Lord) Coming out of the half, the Bulls went three-and-out on four straight drives, garnering only 12-total yards. Head coach Maurice Linguist credited the Broncos’ strong efforts to shut down the offensive scheme. ‘In the second half, we made an emphasis on trying to get a couple things established that Western Michigan was taking away from us,” Linguist said in the post-game press conference. “But, we’ve got to be ready to respond to the next series of plays and things we need to do to move the ball effectively.’”
Tim Riordan at Bull Run looked at the big picture: “WMU is one of the better teams in the MAC, they played as good, if not better, than anyone out of the conference so the loss is not a sign UB cannot compete for a Bowl game or even their division. But the MAC East is shaping up to be a bit more difficult than expected. Bowling Green is playing fantastic defense, Miami is looking competent, and Kent is strong. Even Ohio looks like they are starting to get their feet under them after a terrible start. There are no “give me’s” on UB’s schedule outside of Akron so Buffalo needs to figure out how to play a solid second half of offense if they want to return to a bowl game for the fourth straight season.”
UBBulls.com, the house organ, was complimentary: “The loss spoiled a great defensive game plan by the Bulls who held the Broncos' high-octane offense in check for most of the game.” Fair enough.
Hustle Belt actually wrote about Buffalo! And so kind, too: “This was a highly competitive game between two of the better teams in the conference. Western Michigan did end up winning the box score, outgaining the Bulls 457-282, but this game was close throughout. Buffalo’s defense shut down the Broncos offense unlike anyone else, with the exception of Michigan. (Personal aside: Entering the year, I didn’t think the Bulls had enough talent to qualify for a bowl game. They have proven me wrong thus far.) The Bulls have nothing to be ashamed of from this performance, but Western Michigan has officially established themselves as a MAC title contender with this victory.”
Don’t Look Back In Anger: Reviewing Week 5’s Picks
Image from ballstatesports.com
If I owned a house, I would’ve bet it on Army this weekend. Entering its non-conference contest with Ball State (2-3, 0-1)—every game is non-conference for the independent Black Knights—Army was 4-0 and its rushing attack was rolling for nearly 350 yards a game.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, were struggling against the run and had lost three straight.
So what does Army do? Start tossing the ball around the yard, of course! Inexplicably down 21-0 in the first quarter, the men from West Point cut the deficit to 21-14 by halftime before deciding it would be cool to introduce the pass into their offense for the first time in five years.
The result: two interceptions, the second of which led almost immediately to a Cardinal TD. What did it matter? By then, there was no way Army was covering the 9.5-point spread as the favorite.
Congratulations, Ball State. Thanks to you, I picked the wrong winner and the wrong cover. Conversely, I did have WMU to win and cover in the UB game.
How’d I do picking the rest of this week’s MAC games? Let’s see!
Toledo 45, UMass 7. A 24-point second quarter went a long way towards covering the 27-point spread for the Rockets (3-2, 1-0) in this non-conference game (every game is non-conference for the independent Minutemen). Picked ‘em both. Poor UMass (0-5, 0-3). Maybe this football thing just isn’t for you.
Northern Illinois 27, Eastern Michigan 20. NIU (3-2, 1-0) covered the 1.5-point spread despite 338 passing yards and two TDs from EMU QB Ben Bryant, 167 of which went to WR Hassan Beydoun. I give you credit, Eagles (3-2, 0-1), for scoring 17 points in the final two quarters to make this a game after falling behind 17-3 in the first half. I called this one both ways.
Kent State 27, Bowling Green 20. Was a little surprised to see the Golden Flashes (2-3, 1-0) tagged as 16.5-point favorites over a BGSU squad coming off a somewhat shocking win over Minnesota. I picked both legs of this game, as well—KSU to win, the Falcons to cover. Kent State’s Marquez Cooper ran for 120 yards and two TDs in the victory.
Miami (Ohio) 28, Central Michigan 17. Woof, I took a pair of losses here. The RedHawks (2-3, 1-0) scored 14 in the first and fourth quarters and were paced by the terrifically-named Mac Hippenhammer, who caught eight passes for 170 yards. The Chips (2-3, 0-1) did get 326 yards and two TDs from QB Daniel Richardson, who may be wrestling the starting job away from Washington transfer Jacob Sirmon.
Ohio 34, Akron 17. I was inexplicably impressed by Akron (1-4, 0-1) and took another pair of losses here. It was really more of my disgust with the Bobcats (1-4, 1-0) that fueled this pick, who’ve lost ugly to Syracuse, Duquesne (!), Louisiana, and Northwestern this season. Either Ohio’s on the way back or the Zips are just really bad. Akron QB DJ Irons did complete 13 of 16 passes for 148 yards and two TDs.
My total for the week picking against the spread: 4-3
My total for the week picking winners: 4-3
For the season, I’m 24-25-1 against the spread and 33-8 picking winners. Respectable! See you later this week, everyone.