Don't judge the Bulls' 20-14 loss to Central Michigan by the score
Buffalo's hopes at bowl season likely over, but still have a lot of reasons to play
When the Central Michigan football team was driving down the field with the opportunity to take a three-score lead, I knew this drive would dictate not only this game, but the remaining four of the season.
The series could have gone one of two ways. Either Central Michigan would score a touchdown and this game – and season – would likely get very ugly, very quickly.
Or, senior safety Adam Redden would make a play, force a turnover and then, maybe, Buffalo’s season would remain alive after Saturday.
The football teams last hopes – which were quickly diminishing – rode on the shoulders of Redden. Whenever the Bulls have needed a big play, he’s been around the football. Whether it’s tackle in the backfield, or a one-on-one touchdown-saving takedown.
Luckily for the Buffalo ‘D,’ Redden was there to bail the Bulls out again. If it wasn’t for an “inadvertent whistle,” Redden may have turned his strip-sack into a 67-yard touchdown. He didn’t only record the sack and the fumble, but then ran about 10 yards down the field to recover the ball.
“I wasn’t blocked, so I made the play,” Redden said calmly.
The Bulls could have rolled over and quit in this possession. They could have admitted their defeat, admitted a bowl-less 2014 and embody a “let’s just get through this” mentality.
But they didn’t. It was the offense’s turn to keep hope alive. The ‘D’ made a big play and gave the offense the chance to capitalize. Junior quarterback Joe Licata took it from there. He led the team on an 11-play, 67-yard touchdown drive.
If there’s one player on this defense who can make a big play in a big opportunity, it’s Redden. And if there’s only one player who can spark an entire roster, it’s Redden.
On top of all that, it was “Senior Day.” It seemed so perfect.
This play switched the momentum of the game. Central Michigan’s next four possessions went for -13, nine, nine and 3 yards, respectively. The Chippewas recorded two first downs, one because of a Buffalo penalty and another from two rushes.
Enter Redden, yet again.
He came rushing of the edge and manhandled Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush for an 8-yard loss following the Chippewas’ first down. Senior safety Witney Sherry intercepted the ball the next play – just the team’s second pick of the season.
In the middle of these four dominant defensive drives, the Bulls’ special teams – another aspect of the team that heavily struggled throughout the season – created a spark courtesy of junior running back Devin Campbell. Campbell’s 69-yard kickoff return to begin the second half gave the Bulls a short field to work with. A very short field. Licata connected with sophomore wide receiver Malcolm Robinson for a 6-yard touchdown just three plays later.
But the Chippewas’ fifth possession following the fumble decided the game. After picking up just eight yards on 15 plays in the previous four possessions, Central Michigan put together a 16-play, 98-yard touchdown drive that lasted nearly 10 minutes.
“When it’s the fourth quarter and it’s tied up, you just got to make your plays and come off the field and get the offense the ball back,” Redden said.
The Bulls couldn’t do this.
And so, the Bulls lost 20-14 after they were unable to score in their final two possessions. The loss drops the Bulls to 3-5 and 1-3 in the conference. It essentially ends their chances of playing in back-to-back bowl games.
The Bulls would have to win their final four games just to be eligible to play in a bowl game. And that alone doesn’t mean they would receive an invitation.
But unlike the NFL, there’s no packing up for next season. There are 21 seniors on this year’s roster, including Redden. Unlike last season’s roster, this one has no clear NFL players. And unlike in basketball, there’s no plethora of overseas leagues.
This could be the final four football games any of Buffalo’s 21 seniors play.
They haven’t forgotten this.
“At the start of the year, I don’t think anybody expected to be in the scenario we are in now, I mean our backs are up against the wall and we know that as a team,” said senior center Trevor Sales. “We’re not going to go hide in the corner and cry about it. We have four games left; I have four games left in my life to play. We are going to come out swinging.”
Licata, Redden and senior defensive tackle Kristjan Sokoli all shook their heads in agreement with Sales.
And for the players who do have remaining eligibility, this season is essentially a tryout for whatever next year’s coaching staff looks like. Don’t think they don’t know that.
Buffalo has four more games. For some, these are four games to prove why they should be on next year’s rosters. For others, it’s the final four games wearing a Bulls uniform.
“Stay tuned,” Sales said to close the press conference.