A missed opportunity for the UB Bulls

Buffalo takes a late lead into the fourth quarter, falls to Bowling Green

The Spectrum

It would be too easy to blame Buffalo’s 36-35 loss to Bowling Green Saturday on Patrick Clarke’s 33-yard missed field goal in the fourth quarter.

It would also be an inaccurate statement.

Football is the ultimate team game. How many times do you hear coaches and players say, “You win and lose as a team?"

It’s a cliché, but it’s true. And the Bulls have done a lot more losing than winning on the road.

Buffalo football is 5-21 on the road since 2010. The Bulls are only 1-6 in one-score games on the road over this time. To be in the discussion for conference championships, you need to perform on the road.

The Bulls did just that last season. Buffalo went 3-3 on the road, including a 3-1 mark in Mid-American Conference road games. This is why Buffalo had an opportunity to win the MAC East in its regular season finale last season against Bowling Green.

We haven’t seen a winning performance on the road yet. Buffalo is 0-2 away from UB Stadium – both one-score losses in winnable games.

Senior safety Adam Redden said that the Bulls consider themselves one of the two best teams in the MAC East. He could be right. The conference is more wide open than it’s ever been in my five fall semesters at Buffalo.

“Definitely a missed opportunity,” said junior quarterback Joe Licata. “It’s something that we talked about since [Bowling Green] beat us at Ralph last year was getting our second chance. When I looked at the schedule, the first game I looked at was Oct. 4. That’s what I was looking for all season and we came up short today.”

And the Bulls came up short in all aspects of the game.

Buffalo lost because the offense gained only 22 yards and one first down in the third quarter, after totaling 208 yards and 14 first downs in the first half. After throwing for 119 yards in the first half, Licata was just 6 of 13 for 25 yards in the final 30 minutes.

Buffalo lost because the defense forced only two punts in the game and surrendered 17 plays of more than 10 yards – including two of the Falcons’ final four plays on their game-winning drive.

The Bulls have looked like two different teams coming out of halftime in every game except the Norfolk State 36-7 victory. They have yet to dominate the game for 60 minutes but were able to overcome that in wins over Duquesne and Miami Ohio.

Bowling Green is neither of those teams.

The offensive inconsistencies and the defensive performance – which is certainly a liability at the moment – must change before the players can think of a championship game as a realistic goal.

“We just need to finish out, be complete every step of the way, even in the fourth quarter,” Redden said. “That’s what it came down to today. We definitely did let off the gas, just left a few plays out there on the field today.”

This idea of “letting off the gas” is disturbing, especially considering the magnitude of the game.

Buffalo had the opportunity to prove itself as a team to fear in the MAC. Bowling Green entered the season as the clear favorite to win not only the East division, but also the entire conference. But the Falcons have suffered injuries to some of their key players, and now seem more vulnerable.

This could have been Buffalo’s “statement game.” But until the Bulls can win on the road, they are just another team in the conference.

Even with the Buffalo ‘D’ performing poorly, it still felt like the offense was going to do enough to win this game. Junior running back Anthone Taylor proved to anybody who thought last week’s game was a fluke that he is a MAC running back to fear. He became the first Bull ever to record back-to-back games of more than 200 rushing yards. Even Branden Oliver and James Starks didn’t do that.

The defense had its chance to redeem itself. If the Bulls stopped Bowling Green in the final possession, it’s a victory on the road against the best team in the conference.

All of a sudden, 30 points surrendered doesn’t seem like so many.

Buffalo has scored at least 35 points in five of its six games. There is no reason the Bulls should only have three wins. At some point, the defense or special teams need to provide the offense with some support.

Heartbreak and sports are synonymous in Buffalo. UB Athletics is no different. In 2009, the basketball team lost the MAC championship game as time expired. In 2011, the football team rallied from a 21-point fourth quarter deficit, only to lose by one point due to a missed extra point with 14 seconds left. The Bills lost four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s – one due to a missed field goal late in the game.

Unfortunately for Buffalo, the “wide-right” returned when Clarke missed a 33-yard field goal with 3:04 remaining in the fourth quarter Saturday. This would have extended the lead to eight points.

Less than a minute later, the Falcons scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.

The game ended with a game-winning score. Not a game-losing kick.

The Bulls play at Eastern Michigan next week. The Eagles are 1-4 but will be playing their first game at home since a victory on Aug. 30. Buffalo’s other two road games will be at Ohio Nov. 5 and Massachusetts Nov. 28, which is the final game of the season.

There’s a good possibility the final game will have MAC championship game implications. That is, if the Bulls prove they can win on the road before the final contest.

“This can’t be the turning point to turmoil. It has to be the turning point to glory and more victories down the road,” Redden said. “Don’t let this be the turning point to the worse and let’s build from it.”

There’s no powerhouse team in the MAC this season. And Buffalo took the defending champions to the final possession. There’s no reason to panic.

But how many more games will Buffalo lose in heartbreaking fashion?

email: owen.obrien@ubspectrum.com