"Buffalo, we have a problem: Bulls performance against Duquesne should leave fans worried "

The Bulls' 38-28 win came after surrendering a 21-point lead

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The Spectrum

Well, that escalated quickly.

The Buffalo football team led 21-0 in the second quarter, but the Bulls were trailing 28-24 after a Duquesne fourth-quarter touchdown.

It has been said so much it’s nauseating. It’s beaten into the heads of players, from the lowest to the highest level of play. It’s the biggest rule in football.

Don’t turn the ball over.

Buffalo turned the ball over. And when you give away possessions, you either lose games or make games more interesting than they should be. Luckily for Buffalo, it was the latter.

The Bulls did win 38-28, but did it really feel like a victory? Or just survival?

First, junior quarterback Joe Licata threw an interception in the red zone. Then, Buffalo junior wide receiver Marcus McGill let a punted ball bounce off his knee and into the arms of a Duquesne special teams player – resulting in the Dukes’ first touchdown.

The Bulls’ historic success last season came because of a tremendous turnover differential. It’s no coincidence their eight-win season came with a +14 turnover ratio.

And with the opportunity to score more first-half points, Buffalo allowed an eight-yard sack, moving its field goal attempt to 44 yards. Senior kicker Patrick Clarke was unable to connect.

The Bulls should have led 31-0 at halftime and cruised for the remainder of the game.

But the next 30 minutes were more like the Titanic.

The Buffalo defense made Dillon Buechel, Duquesne’s starting quarterback, look like the best FCS quarterback since Joe Flacco. After struggling in the first half, Buechel completed six of seven passes for 213 yards in the third quarter – including an 88-yard touchdown.

For 15 minutes, you forgot which team was playing Baylor in two weeks. You forgot which team was FBS with bowl-game aspirations. You forgot which school was supposed to win.

Even Branden Oliver, who was tweeting his support and praise to the current running backs throughout the first half, sent a tweet saying “Man what’s going on,” during the third quarter.

It must have been hard for Khalil Mack and Alex Neutz, who were on the sidelines, to watch their former teammates struggle.

How did this happen?

Because Buffalo gave Duquesne life. The Bulls looked nervous during the Dukes’ third-quarter comeback – you couldn’t help but to think of last year’s 26-23 five-overtime game against FCS Stony Brook. They were blowing coverage downfield and leaving Duquesne receivers wide open for huge gains.

This was the first football game on UB’s newly designed turf. The first opportunity for the 2014 team to announce what it was and try to escape from the shadow of the 2013 superstars – who were all watching a few feet away. The first opportunity to show the city of Buffalo why it’s worth coming to the Sept. 12 game against nationally ranked Baylor.

First impressions are hard to overcome.

The sloppy play didn’t ultimately cost the Bulls anything in the win/loss column – but it had to shake confidence. This team was filled with question marks coming into the season and this game did very little to increase anybody’s confidence.

The 44-minute lightning delay after an 87-degree kickoff temperature was supposed to be the weirdest part of the day. Boy, was I mistaken.

But it’s still a victory. Buffalo totaled 472 yards. Junior running back Anthone Taylor ran for 115 yards. Licata had 298 yards and three scores and maybe found his new favorite target in junior wide receiver Ron Willoughby, who had 10 receptions for 132 yards. The two connected for both of Buffalo’s fourth-quarter scores.

The hardest thing to look past is the defense. It looked dominant in the first half, but unrecognizable for the final 30 minutes. There are new players getting accustomed to unfamiliar roles and this was supposed to ease these players into them.

Nothing about this game was easy.

It’s only one game, there’s no reason to end all hope. There’s still talent on this team and plenty of veterans.

It’s time to see how they respond.

If the 2014 team wants to be remembered as anything other than the leftovers of 2013, things must improve. Quickly. Army is one week away. Buffalo responded from its FCS-scaring last season with a 41-12 victory against Connecticut. Can the Bulls do it again?

This game leaves uncertainty. This game leaves malcontent. This game leaves fear.

We could be looking back four months from now and laughing that people were worried about this game. Or, we could be saying ‘What did you expect?’

email: owen.obrien@ubspectrum.com