Bulls dominate RedHawks despite empty stadium, sloppy first half
Jaret Patterson rushed for two touchdowns as UB cruised to a 42-10 victory
If you kept your eyes trained on the field during Tuesday night’s UB-Miami (OH) football game, you may have been able to convince yourself that all was normal at UB Stadium.
Jaret Patterson scored multiple touchdowns.
Jovany Ruiz wore No. 41 in honor of the late Solomon Jackson.
And the Bulls dominated the time of possession in a 42-10 victory over the RedHawks.
But the on-field action masked an abnormal reality: for the first time in program history, the Bulls played a home game in front of an entirely empty stadium, save for a few members of the local and national media. While the rest of Amherst was under the “yellow” micro-cluster zone designation, the Bulls and RedHawks were playing America’s Game under the bright lights of UB Stadium.
And while the circumstances may have changed, the stated goal was the same: to win.
“I’m not worried about anything else: the fans, the opponent,” said junior running back Kevin Marks. “Just worrying about us and getting this win.”
On Tuesday, UB wore out the opposing defense the way it usually does: on the ground. Junior running backs Jaret Patterson (73 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries) and Marks (109 yards on 16 carries) helped the Bulls hold the ball for 35:03, a key advantage in the time of possession game.
With his performance, Patterson became the fastest running back in school history to rush for 3,000 career yards.
Junior quarterback Kyle Vantrease (17-27 for 353 yards and four touchdowns) was inconsistent in the first half, but he ended up having the best game of his young career. He connected with senior wide receiver Antonio Nunn (five catches for 137 yards and a touchdown), redshirt freshman wide receiver Trevor Wilson (two catches for 103 yards and a touchdown), senior tight end Zac Lefebvre (four catches for 67 yards and a touchdown) and senior wide receiver Jovany Ruiz (three catches for 27 yards and a touchdown) on scores.
On the other side of the ball, senior defensive end Malcolm Koonce and freshman safety Logic Hudgens led the way with a team-leading five tackles. Senior safety Roy Baker added an interception. The defense was aided by dropped passes and errant throws in the first half, but really came into its own in front of a national ESPN audience during the second half.
“I'm really proud of our guys and our staff,” head coach Lance Leipold said. “It was a big test against last year's conference champs. I thought tonight we played really well. We didn't have any turnovers. We got some big plays. The job of our offensive line was outstanding. Kyle [Vantrease] played great in the second half.”
The Bulls did their best to make Tuesday’s game feel as normal as possible. The UB sideline was active, with players jumping up and down in an attempt to hype up the starters. The public address announcer was busy using his trademark “third down” call. And the speaker system was put to full use, as it blared hip-hop and pop songs.
But there was still something ominous about all the empty seats and lack of human noise. Even though UB has historically struggled with attendance, the fans — especially the True Blue student section — were noticeably absent.
From 2014 to 2018, attendance declined 7.6% across the FBS, even as fan support didn’t change meaningfully during that span, according to a Gallup poll. UB had an average attendance of 16,417 last season, well below the D1 average.
Last September, the Bulls traveled to Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, the third-largest open-air venue in the world. In practice, Leipold cranked the stadium speakers to their loudest volume and blasted deafening heavy metal music and crowd noise. The stunt was designed to simulate the experience of playing in front of a raucous crowd in University Park.
But there’s no Penn State on the schedule this year. And even if there were, there wouldn’t be any fans there to greet them.
In a non-pandemic year, the Bulls would have traveled to Kansas State, Ohio State and Army-West Point, three unwelcoming environments. They would have also looked to pack UB Stadium for conference matchups.
Instead, the Bulls were forced to cancel their non-conference slate and play their home games without fans.
“Fans or no fans, you're at home, you're comfortable,” Vantrease said. “You're on the field that you practice on. You're minutes away from everything that you know. It's just a comfort level for us.”
The Bulls will travel to Doyt Perry Stadium to take on the Bowling Green Falcons next Tuesday.
Justin Weiss is the senior features editor and can be reached at email@example.com