UB football loses MAC opener to Kent State 44-20

Saturday was all about Nick Holley.

Holley, the junior receiver turned quarterback, lead the Kent State Golden Flashes (2-4, 1-1 Mid-American Conference) to victory over the Buffalo Bulls (1-4, 0-1 MAC), 44-20. The Bulls were handed the loss at UB Stadium in front of 20,532 people. Holley finished the night with 89 passing yards along with 224 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Fifth year senior cornerback Najee Murray had five pass breakups for the Kent State defense.

“If it’s two steps forward, it’s two or three back,” said Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold.

Buffalo looked flat throughout their opening game of MAC play. Senior running back Jordan Johnson was held under 50 yards for the third straight game. Freshman quarterback Tyree Jackson finished with 250 yards and a passing and rushing touchdown.

But 128 yards and both scores came in the fourth against a prevent Kent State defense that started the quarter 21 points ahead and never allowed UB within 14.

Holley had a 65-yard rush on the first play from scrimmage in the game and the Bulls never figured out a counter. Holley managed three rushes of over 40 yards to go with his four scores.

“Definitely a good player,” said sophomore linebacker Khalil Hodge. “But I feel like a lot of the big plays that were happening were on us, we were allowing them to happen, everything that we did, if it be missed tackles, missed alignments, missed assignments, things like that. We just have to be better.”

After starting the season at receiver, Holley was moved to quarterback because of injuries at Kent State. Prior to last week’s game against Akron, Holley last played quarterback in high school in 2012. While his arm may be sub-par, his athleticism makes him an extremely threatening weapon behind center. With many read options and jet sweeps, the Buffalo defense seemed lost at times trying to defend him.

His twin brother, senior safety Nate Holley, who entered the game as the NCAA leader in solo tackles, led the Golden Flashes defense with 13 tackles in the game, 10 being solo tackles.

The Bulls offense started slow again as they had only three points in the first half. This is the fourth straight game in which the Bulls were held to three points or less in the first half. The Bull have also entered half time losing in every game.

“We played well five games, but we’ve started out slow every game, us as players have to figure that out, that can’t keep happening, we can’t be successful like that,” Jackson said.

The biggest mistake for the Bulls offense was a fumble by Johnson. Only down 10, the Bulls had a chance to start a comeback but Johnson fumbled the ball. Junior linebacker James Alexander scooped up the ball and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown.

“[Down] 13-3 you’re getting the ball, three and a half minutes to go in the half and you’re gonna get the ball to start the second half, now you’re down 17,” Leipold said.

Buffalo scored both of their touchdowns in the fourth. At that point, however, it was just a shootout with a team who already had the lead. In total, the teams combined for 31 points in the fourth quarter.

The Bulls will look to regroup moving forward in the MAC. UB will host the Ball State Cardinals at UB Stadium next Saturday. Kickoff is at 3:30 pm.

Dan Petruccelli is a sports staff writer and can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com