Before the MAC East Champions could make the trip to Detroit, they had to face Akron in the last regular-season game of the season.
As 32.5-point favorites, the Bulls headed into Saturday’s game knowing a trip to the MAC Championship was already guaranteed.
Despite a lack of motivation, UB steamrolled Akron.
The Bulls made quick work of the Zips and dominated from the opening whistle.
UB took a 14-0 first-quarter lead after junior running back Jaret Patterson ran in a one-yard touchdown and senior safety Tyrone Hill blocked an Akron field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown.
The Bulls defense dominated, holding Akron to just 204 total yards. The defensive effort included four sacks and an interception from junior cornerback Shemar Hayes.
Going back to 2018, UB had shutout Akron for nine straight quarters before freshman running back Jonzell Norrils scored an 11-yard touchdown run to get the Zips on the scoreboard.
On the offensive side of the ball, UB was just as dominant.
The Bulls rushed for 428 yards as a team, as junior running back Kevin Marks led all UB rushers with 182 yards and two touchdowns.
Marks, who wore No. 41 in honor of the late Solomon Jackson, was dealing with a whirlwind of emotions before the game. Marks heard the news that his former high school teammate, forward Keyontae Johnson of Florida basketball, collapsed on the court during the Gators’ game against Florida State.
“I almost broke down crying right before the game in the team meeting knowing I had to put on this jersey today,” Marks said. “But like I said, I knew I had to go out there and give it my all because you never know.”
Patterson, usually the star of the backfield, ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
A large part of the team’s stellar rushing performance was the offensive line. The unit has dominated for the Bulls all season and the running backs are always quick to praise the play of the big men in the trenches.
“Those guys up front are very athletic, they know what they’re doing,” Patterson said. “I ask them a lot of questions, they’re very smart, and they just make it easy for us in the running back room.”
Junior quarterback Kyle Vantrease only threw seven passes, completing four for 68 yards. Vantrease’s only touchdown came on a 52-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman receiver Trevor Wilson.
By halftime, UB had a 35-point lead. The Bulls took advantage of the large lead, pulling the starters to prevent injury risks ahead of Friday’s MAC Championship game.
This gave other players the opportunity to contribute and get their names on the stat sheet.
Sophomore quarterback Matt Myers saw action in relief for Vantrease, rushing for a 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Sophomores Ron Cook Jr. and Tajay Ahmed carried the ball late in the game, with Ahmed galloping for a 44-yard touchdown run on his first career carry in the fourth quarter to cap off the Bulls victory.
Head coach Lance Leipold was pleased UB was able to get most players involved, as it rewards the backups who work extremely hard throughout the season.
“We had a chance to play a lot of guys, I thought that was important,” Leipold said. “You walk in [the locker room] after a game and see the morale and where it’s at for a lot of guys. [I’m] happy for a lot of them that have worked extremely hard.”
The dominant victory showed that UB didn’t overlook the struggling Zips. In a possible letdown spot, the Bulls showed a sense of focus needed in the MAC Championship Game.
“If you want to be a team that wants to win a championship, you want to be a ranked team, you have to go out and play like that,” Leipold said. “You just can’t sit there and wait for the next so-called bigger game, and I thought they did that.”
After Ball State’s 30-27 victory over Western Michigan, UB will play the Cardinals to decide the winner of the MAC Championship on Dec. 18.
In UB’s last appearance in the MAC Championship Game, the Bulls fell short to Northern Illinois, losing by 1 point. With that game in mind, UB looks to cap the 2020 season off its undefeated regular season with a MAC Championship.
“It’s all about having a good week of preparation and knowing what’s really at stake here,” Patterson said. “We need to finish the season the right way to win the MAC Championship.”
Anthony DeCicco is the Senior Sports Editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @DeCicco42
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.