By MATT ALBERT
An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.
The Bulls learned this elementary law of physics the hard way Saturday night during their 16-8 loss to the Western Michigan Chippewas at UB Stadium. Running behind a gargantuan offensive front, a trio of Western Michigan tailbacks amassed a total of 285 yards on the ground in their cruise to victory.
Rarely was one of the Bulls' undersized defensive linemen able to get his hand on a Chippewa back until he was four or five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Chippewa fullback Terrance Jackson, who only had 16 carries coming into the game, led the charge with 124 yards on 29 carries for his first ever 100-yard game.
"Jackson was a really good back," said Bulls senior linebacker Bobby Johnson, who had a career-high of 18 tackles. "He found his holes, but like Coach [Hofher] was saying, no one had a really big gain and 20 yards was their longest run. He was hitting the holes right and he was getting five or six yards every single time, and it was putting us in a bind. They were doing what they wanted to do."
The Bulls' (1-3, 0-2 Mid-American Conference) defense put up a valiant effort despite the disproportionate size match-ups up front. Central Michigan (2-2,1-2) went in averaging over 30 points in its three previous games, two against top-25 teams Michigan State and Toledo. While Central Michigan chewed up huge chunks of yardage on the ground, the Bulls' defense tightened when it mattered most, inside the red zone. The Chippewas were inside the Bulls' 10-yard line three times, and came out with a grand total of only three points.
Their lone touchdown came on a scamper by starting tailback Robbie Mixon from 20 yards out. He rushed through a gaping hole on the left side to cap off a 6-play, 76-yard drive and give the Chippewas an early 7-0 lead.
At that point, it appeared Mixon's rush was just the beginning of a series of long runs and touchdowns that would end in a CMU rout. To everyone's surprise, Western Michigan never found the end zone again, and Mixon's run was the night's longest for the visitors.
"Our guys did not back down, regardless of whether they were at a size disadvantage," said Bulls Head Coach Jim Hofher.
Central Michigan was up 16-0 midway through the third quarter, and had a 3rd-and-goal from inside the Bulls 1-yard line. With a blowout staring them right in the face, the Bulls defense showed the tenacity and grit that has made them the teams best unit this season.
Ryan Buttles stopped CMU quarterback Ryan Vickers on a third-down keeper, and Chris Shelly and Omari Jordan made a jarring hit on tailback Kenan Lawhorne on the fourth down to return the ball to the Bulls.
The Bulls' offense, however, was unable to capitalize on the numerous chances given to them by their defense. They made some plays, but for every step forward they took two back.
Poor special teams play, specifically Dallas Pelz's field goal kicks, also hindered the Bulls' offense. Pelz, who had a spectacular three-for-three performance a week ago at UConn, badly missed two long-range shots on Saturday. While it may go in the stat sheet that CMU blocked his two attempts from 40 and 41 yards, Pelz kicked the ball right into an unlucky Chippewa's kneecaps.
In contrast, CMU's Paul Savich went three of four on the evening, with a long of 44, and an extra point, to account for 10 of the Chippewas' points.
" Looking back, we may have gone away from the ground game a little early. We were coming from behind, and seeing how they got after Joe, we could have ran it a little more," said Hofher.
Freedy was not alone in his offensive struggles. UB receivers Andre Forde and Maurice Bradford had trouble distancing themselves from the quick CMU cornerbacks Tedaro France and Rodrico Epps; Forde had a critical drop that would have kept a second-half drive alive. France picked Freedy off for the second time with a spectacular one-handed interception on a deep ball at the Buffalo 13-yard line that basically put the game out of reach despite a furious Bulls rally.
With 3:03 left in the game, UB took over at their own 14-yard line. Freedy executed a balanced 86-yard drive capped off with a 32-yard strike to tight end Chad Bartoszek. Bartoszek outfought a CMU safety in the middle of the end zone, elevating over him to make the catch, and bringing the remnants of the 10,930 fans to their feet.
Bartoszek showed why he is quickly becoming one of Freedy's favorite targets. Freedy went to him again on the two-point conversion to give the Bulls new life and bump the score to 16-8.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, that life was brief.
It was extinguished on the next play when CMU recovered an onside kick to seal the deal. Quarterback Michael Vickers took a knee, and the Bulls were left with what might have been.
"We didn't lose, we ran out of time," said Hofher. "The turnovers were a big part of the game. Who knows [what would have happened] if we don't have the turnovers. We had some chances to get some points and we didn't."
The road will not get any easier for Buffalo as they travel to play Miami of Ohio next week before returning to face perennial powerhouse Marshall for Homecoming Oct. 13.