Bulls fall to No. 2 Ohio State
Buffalo shows grit in fighting back from slow start
Published: Saturday, August 31, 2013
Updated: Saturday, August 31, 2013 18:08
COLUMBUS, OHIO – In the middle of the third quarter, with No. 2 Ohio State (1-0) stalling in its own territory, senior linebacker Khalil Mack sacked quarterback Braxton Miller and forced a fumble.
The play would have given the Bulls (0-1) the ball on the Buckeyes’ 2-yard line, down by just 10 and threatening to make it a one-possession game.
But it was called back because of an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on Mack, and Ohio State got a new set of downs and the ball spotted on its 37-yard line. The Buckeyes then marched down the field and scored a touchdown.
The Bulls had watched what could have been just a three-point deficit become a 17-point deficit in less than seven minutes.
“We knew we would fight until the end regardless of what happened,” Mack said. “But I really think that would have changed the game. That was a big blow, but we fought back.”
On Saturday, in front of a crowd of 103,980 at Ohio Stadium – the second-largest crowd Buffalo has ever played in front of – the Bulls lost their season opener, 40-20.
Sophomore quarterback Joe Licata went 19 of 32 for 185 and two touchdowns and one interception. Senior running back Branden Oliver rushed 26 times for 76 yards. Senior wide receiver Alex Neutz had nine catches for 98 yards and one touchdown.
The game was marked by huge momentum swings, which saw the Bulls fall behind by 23 points early on, come within 10 in the second and third quarters and finally lose by 20.
The penalty was a pivotal moment. The Bulls had looked strong since halftime and had just scored a touchdown to pull within 10 points.
After the penalty call, the Bulls didn’t score again, although they came close.
Buffalo drove down the field from its 24-yard line at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth. On the Buckeyes’ 28-yard line, Licata found sophomore running back Devin Campbell on the left side of the field for a 25-yard completion.
Campbell appeared to have a shot at reaching the end zone, but he was pushed out of bounds at the 3-yard line.
In the three ensuing plays, the Bulls tried running twice and passing once. The pass was incomplete, but the two rushes brought the Bulls to the one-yard line. With one more shot at the end zone, Licata botched the snap and was forced to fall on the ball – turning possession over to Ohio State.
“No excuses,” Quinn said. “None, zero. I wasn’t happy and especially the way the fourth down play [went].”
Licata, the man under center, took the blame.
“It was on me,” Licata said. “The ball hit my hand; I just didn’t squeeze it, totally my fault. I was going to hand the ball off and [Branden Oliver] was probably going to score.”
That was as close as the Bulls got to the end zone the rest of the day. It was also the last time Licata saw the field.
Quinn pulled Licata and Oliver with Buffalo down 20 points with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
In their stead, Quinn brought senior quarterback Alex Zordich and sophomore running back Anthone Taylor onto the field. In their two drives, they converted one first down and combined for 12 rushing yards. Zordich did not attempt a pass.
“We wanted an opportunity to see those guys play in this game, and we had them in the game plan all along,” Quinn said. “We’re going to need those guys to be ready this year.”
Despite the penalty call in the third quarter, Mack’s performance was herculean.
Against a nationally ranked opponent and a front-running Heisman Award candidate (Braxton Miller), Mack had eight total tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown.
“His presence was noted against quality opposition,” said Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn. “I saw a number of times where they had more than one guy searching Khalil [Mack] out. He did a great job.”
Though his team never led by fewer than 10 points after the first quarter, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer was impressed with the Bulls.
“I do want to give the team we played, Buffalo, a lot of credit and I have a lot of respect for their coach,” Meyer said.
The Bulls will have another tough test next weekend when they travel to Waco, Texas, to take on Baylor.
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., and the game will be televised on Fox Sports Network.