After nearly falling to Old Dominion last week to close out non-conference play, UB football (2-3, 0-1 MAC) fell to Mid-American Conference foe Western Michigan (4-1, 1-0 MAC), 24-17, at UB Stadium Saturday.
Despite heading into the fourth quarter with a 10-7 lead in their Homecoming Game, the Bulls’ defense allowed 17 unanswered points and found itself down 24-10 with less than three minutes to go. An aggressive yet successful final drive decreased the deficit to seven points but the Bulls were unable to recover the onside kick with less than a minute left.
UB was dominated in the time of possession battle, as the Bulls held onto the football for 13:21, as opposed to Western Michigan’s 40:06. The Bulls went three-and-out on four straight drives coming out of the half and garnered only 12 total yards on offense. Head coach Maurice Linguist credited the Broncos for their strong efforts to shut down the Bulls’ offensive scheme.
“In the second half, we made an emphasis on trying to get a couple things established that Western Michigan was taking away from us,” Linguist said in the post-game press conference. “But, we’ve got to be ready to respond to the next series of plays and things we need to do to move the ball effectively.”
This is the second straight game UB’s offense has failed to move the ball down the field in the second half, leaving its defense out on the field for far too long. The drastic difference in possession time proved to be the deciding factor as the Bulls’ defense experienced late-game fatigue.
Here are four takeaways from UB’s first conference loss to Western Michigan:
Quian Williams is one of the few bright spots on UB’s offense
Graduate student wide receiver Quian Williams followed up an impressive performance against Old Dominion (nine catches for 134 yards and one touchdown) with a positive effort against Western Michigan.
Williams caught 6-of-8 targets for 119 yards, including two catches of over 35 yards that changed the momentum into the Bulls’ favor. The Oklahoma City native was responsible for 119 of 151 total passing yards from senior quarterback Kyle Vantrease.
The pair’s relationship has steadily progressed into something special and their chemistry becomes stronger each week. UB’s offense lacks playmakers, and Vantrease says he is grateful to have a reliable target on the outside.
“He’s [Quian] a good leader, a great, hard worker, and he’s going to make plays,” Vantrease said regarding Williams. “I’m really proud of everything he’s done and it’s just really nice to be able to have that kind of athlete, that kind of player out there on the field, because it opens up everything else.”
It seems Williams knows his way around an opposing defense and is able to pull down the contested 50/50 balls, something the Bulls’ offense has lacked the past few seasons. For an offense that seemingly disappeared in the second half two straight weeks, Williams has certainly made his presence known.
UB’s defense must perform better in late-game situations
The drastic difference in possession time weighed on UB’s defense late in the game, when fatigue set in. Western Michigan’s nifty redshirt sophomore quarterback Kaleb Eleby was able to extend plays by rolling out of the pocket and managed to sustain drives by using his legs.
Since the Bulls’ offense wasn’t able to sustain drives in the second half, the defense was on the field for far too long, leading to mistakes. The Broncos converted on 3-of-5 third down conversions and on 1-of-2 fourth downs in the second half.
Western Michigan was able to tie the game at 10 early in the fourth quarter. With less than 10 minutes remaining, the Broncos started on their own 21-yard line after a 50-yard punt from junior punter Jackson Baltar. UB redshirt fifth-year linebacker Kadofi Wright deflected a pass on the first play of the drive and nearly intercepted a pass from Eleby. Instead of moving on, Wright spiked the ball out of frustration and was called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The very next play was a 64-yard bomb to WMU sophomore wide receiver Skyy Moore for a touchdown.
Despite the offense’s inability to hold onto the ball for longer than three plays, the defense must be better and more disciplined to prevent big plays and game-changing moments.
The offense needs to unlock a passing game
Through five games, Vantrease sits at just 943 passing yards and two touchdown passes. His season-high for yards came in the season opener against Wagner, when he threw for 231 yards and one touchdown on only 19 attempts.
While UB possesses a run-first offensive mentality, things aren’t working as smoothly without Jaret Patterson leading the charge. Junior running back Ron Cook Jr.’s 55-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was the only reason the Bulls surpassed 100 rushing yards against WMU.
Linguist and his coaching staff must consider tailoring the offense more toward the air in order to compete for a MAC Championship this season and keep up with conference foes. Vantrease should be throwing more than 20 times per game, and other playmakers besides Quian Williams — Dominic Johnson or Jovany Ruiz, maybe — need to step up.
“I like winning, so I’m going to do whatever it takes to win,” Vantrease said. “I don’t care if the ball’s on the ground 60 times or the ball’s in the air 60 times, it doesn’t matter to me. We just have to execute.”
Kevin Marks Jr. has yet to get on track
Following an impressive junior season that saw him rush for 741 yards and seven touchdowns as the second option on the depth chart behind Jaret Patterson, senior running back Kevin Marks Jr. has yet to find his footing through five games this season.
The Norfolk, VA native rushed for just 34 yards on 3.1 yards per carry and zero touchdowns in another surprising performance. His season-high for rushing yards is only 85, which came against Big Ten opponent Nebraska in Week 2. Last season, the big-bodied rusher averaged nearly 6.6 yards per carry and 106 rushing yards per game.
Now the first option, Marks is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry and roughly 58 yards per game.
UB dominated opponents with its ground-and-pound offense last season, but Marks has been unable to replicate his 2020 production. Junior running backs Dylan McDuffie and Cook Jr. have both taken a step up; Marks hasn’t.
The Bulls found success running the ball under former head coach Lance Leipold, but they’re not going to come anywhere near the postseason unless they rediscover their identity on offense. That starts and ends with Marks.
The Bulls will travel to Kent, OH to face the Kent State Golden Flashes on Saturday at 7 p.m. The game will be aired on ESPNU.
Hunter Skoczylas is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @HunterSkoczylas.
Hunter Skoczylas is the sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found looking up random sports statistics, jamming to Fleetwood Mac and dedicating his Sunday afternoons to watching the Buffalo Bills.