Gridiron report card: Position breakdown of Bulls 31-21 loss
The Buffalo Bulls (1-5, 0-2 Mid-American Conference) are still seeking their first conference win after losing to the Ball State Cardinals (4-3, 1-2 MAC) 31-21 Saturday at UB Stadium. Buffalo entered halftime leading 14-7, but collapsed in the second half being outscored 24-7 by the Cardinals in the final two quarters.
Freshman quarterback Tyree Jackson had one of his best performances of the season. His career high 306 passing yards makes him the first freshman in program history to throw for 300 yards. He had another career high with three touchdowns and 28 completions.
He could have performed better in some of the big moments, including the two failed fourth down conversions, but overall had a solid day. He had a couple incomplete long balls that were fairly accurate and completed a great 35-yard pass to senior receiver Malcolm Robinson that set up the Bull’s first touchdown. His athleticism was on display as he accumulated 64 yards on the ground.
Running backs: B-
Buffalo’s running backs failed to make it to the century mark for the fourth straight game. Senior running back Jordan Johnson had his most productive game during that stretch. He had his first rush of over 20 yards since their second game against Nevada. He had a total of 76 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry
Sophomore running back Johnathan Hawkins only managed 19 yards in the game. Both running backs had a catch in the game. They also managed to get back to the line of scrimmage every play, with no negative yardage plays in the game against a Ball State defense that blitzed constantly.
Wide receivers and tight ends: A
The wide receiving core looked fantastic Saturday. For the second straight week, nine different players caught a pass for the Bulls. Senior tight end Mason Schreck led the Bulls with nine catches in the game, while Robinson led in yards with 80.
Three different players got into the end zone for the Bulls pass game. Robinson scored his first of the year. Freshman receiver KJ Osborn stretched out for the pylon at the end of a 39-yard catch and scored the first touchdown of his collegiate career.
Offensive line: B
The offensive line looked the best it has in weeks. As a team, Buffalo had the most rushing yards in a game since their week three matchup with Nevada. They excelled at blocking against the blitz, only allowing one sack and two tackles for loss all game. The Bull’s offensive line is currently tied for second in the MAC, only having allowed six sacks so far this season.
Since junior tackle Tyler O’Henly, who started the first three games at right tackle, went down with a concussion in practice after the Army game, the offensive line has been searching for a starting lineup. Junior guard David Goldsby has played the last two games starting at right tackle while freshman guard Tomas Jack-Kurdyla has stepped in to the starting right guard position.
Defensive line: C
The Bulls defensive line has been tasked with stopping an average of over 54 rush attempts per game. In just six games this season, Buffalo has already allowed 1,712 rushing yards, an average of 285.3 rushing yards per game. Ball State sophomore running back James Gilbert had 264 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
The Bulls defensive line looked good in pass rushing situations in one of their first chances of the season against a pocket passer. Senior defensive end Brandon Crawford had two quarterback hits in the game. Junior defensive end Demone Harris had a sack that forced a fumble.
Sophomore linebacker Khalil Hodge is second in the MAC with 11.7 tackles per game. Saturday was his third game this season with 15 or more tackles. He also registered 2.5 tackles for loss. Junior linebacker Ishmael Hargrove had an interception to secure the Bull’s lead heading into half.
The Bulls have allowed four rushing touchdowns in their last two games and over 340 rushing yards in four games this season. Buffalo’s linebackers have struggled against the run along with their defensive line. Both units will need to start getting more pressure on opponents.
Defensive backs: B
Buffalo’s fourth ranked pass defense faced one of their first pocket-passers of the season. Even though Ball State entered the game averaging 34 pass attempts a game, they only passed 22 times on the Bulls. They have yet to face more than 25 in a single game.
The secondary had tight coverage in most of the set pass situations. They finished with three pass breakups and junior safety Ryan Williamson had a diving interception in the first half. Senior cornerback Boise Ross finished with eight tackles and a pass breakup.
Special teams: C
Sophomore kicker Adam Mitcheson missed his only field goal opportunity of the day from 21 yards out. He was 3-for-3 on extra points. Sophomore punter Kyle DeWeen pinned four punts inside the 20.
A miscommunication on a punt caused the Bulls to lose out on possible return yards.
Something needs to change in the Buffalo game plan. Teams continue to rush at a high volume. Buffalo’s opponents have been rushing approximately 62 percent of the time this season. Their pass defense is one strength, but they need to force teams to pass the ball more.
The bright spot is that the team came out the hottest they have all season. Saturday was the first time all year the Bulls have scored two touchdowns in the first half. Although the touchdowns didn’t work out in his favor, the head coach Lance Leipold’s aggression on fourth down shows that Buffalo is willing to make risky calls to try and win games.
Dan Petruccelli is a sports staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org