Gridiron report card: Akron defeats UB Bulls 42-21
The football team (5-6, 3-4 Mid-American Conference) is still a win away from bowl eligibility after a 42-21 loss to Akron (6-5, 4-3 MAC) at InfoCision Stadium – Summa Field Saturday. Buffalo will now need a win over Massachusetts (2-9, 1-6) in its season finale at UB Stadium on Friday for any chance at the program’s third bowl game since returning to Division I in 1999.
Here’s how The Spectrum graded the Bulls’ performance Saturday.
Senior quarterback Joe Licata strung together a few impressive weeks in a row heading into Saturday’s matchup, but his play regressed against Akron.
Licata was intercepted twice, including in the back of the end zone while trying to lead the football team back from a 21-point deficit in the third quarter. The turnover essentially sealed the game for Akron.
He still completed 32 passes for 262 yards while finding eight different receivers and moved into ninth place for both passing yards and touchdowns in MAC history.
Running backs: B+
Like Licata, junior Jordan Johnson had one turnover that cost Buffalo greatly.
Johnson’s lost fumble early in the first quarter inside Buffalo territory setup Akron for another quick score and an early 14-0 lead. But overall, it was a good day for the running game.
Johnson and senior Anthone Taylor kept the ball moving all day and combined for 131 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Taylor had the bulk of the carries (18) for 98 yards, while Johnson was used in the third-down and goal line sets for two touchdowns. Saturday was Taylor’s highest rushing total since Week Three against Florida Atlantic. Relying on Johnson and a now healthy Taylor will be critical for Buffalo next week if it wants to become bowl eligible.
Wide receivers and tight ends: B+
Amid pesky rain throughout the afternoon, there weren’t many drops for Buffalo.
Licata found senior wide receiver Ron Willoughby 11 times for a team-high 105 yards, followed by an 80-yard performance from junior wide receiver Marcus McGill. McGill caught the only touchdown pass of the day for Buffalo on a well-designed fade to the right that left him wide open in the end zone.
Offensive line: A
The offensive line played its best game of the season – simple as that.
The unit was stellar. It did not give up a sack the entire game and gave Licata ample time to look down the field for open receivers. Licata was only hit four times during the game.
The line also contributed to the success of the run game that ran for 130 yards. Even without injured senior guard Dillon Guy, the line has held its own and put together a great performance Saturday.
Defensive line: D
Buffalo’s other line didn’t have a great day.
The ‘D’ line gave up more than 200 yards rushing and two scores on the ground in a subpar performance. Akron running back Donnell Alexander, who had never eclipsed 100 yards rushing in a game, exploded for 143 yards and two scores. The defensive line couldn’t stop Alexander’s combination of east-west running and explosiveness through the tackles.
The line did not record a sack Saturday and has generated just 12.5 sacks on the season. The Bulls need to sharpen up in this area to defend another decent running attack next week.
It’s hard to knock the most consistent unit on the defense, but they’re also to blame for the lack of sacks and the Minutemen’s impressive day running the ball.
But senior linebacker Nick Gilbo had another solid performance with a team-high 10 tackles and 1.5 tackles for losses. He’s been one of the most welcoming surprises for the Bulls this season and has slowly become one of the best players on the defense.
Senior Okezie Alozie had eight tackles but went down with an injury in the fourth quarter. He was able to walk off the field under his own power.
Defensive backs: C
The secondary rebounded after a rough first half with four touchdown passes allowed, but at that point it was too late to completely save its grade.
Woodson always had ample time to throw, which is on the defensive line and line backers, but the secondary was still unable to contain. Zips wide receivers Imani Davis and Jerome Lane particularly burned the Bulls.
Special teams: B-
The punting and kicking units were a small factor in Saturday’s game, but they did make some nice plays to pin Akron back in its own territory.
Freshman Adam Mitcheson wasn’t given an opportunity to kick a field goal, but did hit all three of his extra points. Senior punter Tyler Grassman continued his impressive play, but missed on a critical onside kick late in the game that could have given the Bulls life again.
This game was very winnable for Buffalo, but play calling was a detriment.
This team isn’t successful when Licata throws the ball too much, as it’s now 1-5 when he throws 35 or more passes in a game. He threw the ball 51 times Saturday.
Despite the early deficit, head coach Lance Leipold should have ran with his backfield more than Buffalo’s 27 attempts. The Bulls possess two healthy running backs that should have been relied upon more.
The defense didn’t adjust much. Defensive coordinator Brian Borland mentioned change-ups in the ‘D,’ but nothing much changed in another game where Buffalo allowed 40 points. The staff will have to re-evaluate its calls on both sides of the ball in the season finale against Massachusetts to reach that all-important sixth win.