UB Bulls are down, but certainly not out

Buffalo needs to forget about painful loss and focus on what really matters

The Buffalo football team almost set itself up for a perfect start to the season.

Not perfect as in 4-0 perfect, but for a team that hasn’t won three of its first four games since 1996, 3-1 ain’t bad.

The team was motivated to prove skeptics wrong for questioning its status as a real contender and was close to doing just that Saturday against Nevada.

A 3-1 start for the Bulls would have been a feel-good story for a historically losing program with a new inspiring head coach. But with an ill-fated throw – and tip – with less than two minutes remaining, it all simply dissolved into another .500 start for the Bulls (2-2).

It’s easy to understand why Buffalo is upset with its 24-21 to Nevada. There was a stretch during the fourth quarter where it felt like the Bulls would fulfill their winning vision. The pieces were in place for Buffalo to secure that pivotal third victory and propel this once-questionable team into the discussion about Mid-American Conference contenders.

But that will have to be put on hold for at least one more week, as the Bulls need to figure out how to adjust after an agonizing loss and focus on what really matters: the MAC schedule.

For Buffalo, the difference between being 3-1 and .500 was farther than the scoreboard reads. The front four for the Bulls were simply manhandled by the Nevada rushing duo of James Butler and Don Jackson, both of whom combined for three touchdowns and nearly 300 yards on the ground.

It was almost a given the backs would have a field day on Buffalo’s vulnerable front four, beginning with Butler’s 91-yard rush in the first quarter to set up the Wolf Pack’s first score. That seemed to be Nevada’s in-game plan: infiltrate the middle and expose the defensive tackles.

It’s upsetting for Buffalo because the team did play well in many categories. Other than the D-line, Buffalo outplayed Nevada in almost every category.

The biggest surprise was not seeing the Joe Licata we all expected to see. It’s hard to knock the senior quarterback’s impressive day of 338 yards and two touchdown passes. He will always have drive and instinct, which was on display throughout the entire day.

But he hasn’t played like the Licata I thought he would be at this point in the season.

My biggest problem with the quarterback was his comfort in high-pressure situations. Or lack thereof. Licata drove the ball down to put Buffalo in position to get a game-winning touchdown or at least tie with a field goal, but he ended up throwing a pick that was tipped to end the game.

I’ve said it before. This is still a growing team. Licata knows that. Leipold – especially – knows that.

But Leipold hates the idea of losing. He’s probably having a touch time being the coach of a .500 team. With his six total losses at Wisconsin-Whitewater, that’s never happened to him before.

Weiser noted it’s hard to get over a loss like Saturday’s because of the opportunity a win would have presented the team. It could have been a great win. Three defensive players totaled career highs in tackles and two receivers went for more than 100 yards. Weiser accumulated the best day for a tight end since the team came back to Division I in 1999.

They were hungry to celebrate a victory. Instead, they’re full of anguish.

Bulls, here’s a worthy note I hope you take to heart: it’s a non-conference game for a reason. It’s okay to be upset about the outcome of a game you thought you should have won. But it’s not OK to let it affect play heading into the next week of competition.

Bowling Green – the team Buffalo lost to by a point last season – is set to enter UB Stadium next week to begin MAC play. The Falcons, like Buffalo, are in the mix for a MAC title. Yes, I said it. Buffalo is still in the mix to take home the conference championship, no matter what many naysayers might think.

Buffalo did a great job at rebounding from a loss last time. After their 27-14 loss to Penn State, Buffalo responded with a stellar 33-15 performance against Florida Atlantic. Now, they have to do it again when the games truly begin to matter.

These upcoming games are the ones they have to focus on. Not Saturday’s game where they hung their heads in defeat.

Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached ajordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman.