Following back-to-back conference losses to Western Michigan and Kent State, UB found itself desperately needing a win heading into Saturday’s home matchup against Ohio.
The Bulls got it.
UB (3-4, 1-2 MAC) rallied to overcome a 21-point first-quarter deficit to defeat the Bobcats (1-6, 1-2 MAC), 27-26, and remain in bowl game contention.
“This team has had a ton of close games this season and we’ve felt the pain of coming up on the short end of some of these games,” head coach Maurice Linguist said in the post-game press conference. “[I’m] just proud of the way the guys fought and found a way. Wanna talk about this game? It’s about a group of guys finding a way to make it happen with the game on the line.”
The win gave UB its first Mid-American Conference victory and kept the Bulls alive in their quest for a fourth-straight bowl appearance.
Here are four takeaways from UB’s 27-26 win over Ohio:
Second-half adjustments by UB’s defense made the difference
The game was a tale of two halves, especially for UB’s defense, which struggled to contain an explosive Ohio rushing attack that tallied 216 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Armani Rogers led the Bobcats on the ground with 183 rushing yards and made history with a 99-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The 99-yard scamper was the longest rushing touchdown by a quarterback in NCAA history, breaking former Arizona State quarterback Mark Malone’s record of 98 yards against Utah State in 1979. Rogers also led Ohio with two rushing touchdowns.
Ohio senior running back De’Montre Tuggle recorded 46 rushing yards and a score and redshirt freshman running back O’Shann Allison was held to just 20 yards on 10 carries.
After allowing 21 unanswered points in the first quarter, the defense allowed just three points in the second half and earned multiple crucial stops to keep UB in the game.
In the fourth quarter, a forced fumble by junior defensive end Max Michel was recovered by fifth-year senior linebacker Kadofi Wright, setting up senior quarterback Kyle Vantrease’s touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Trevor Borland. That score brought UB within two points.
Then, a forced three-and-out — highlighted by a sack from junior defensive tackle Daymond Williams — set up the game-winning field goal by junior kicker Alex McNulty.
Senior linebacker James Patterson recorded 15 tackles and a tackle for loss en route to winning MAC Defensive Player of the Week.
Linguist emphasized stopping Ohio’s speed-option offense, and it paid dividends. UB allowed only 55 rushing yards in the second half. Linguist says multiple halftime adjustments were crucial to shutting down the Bobcats’ ground game.
“We started squeezing the end down a little bit more, crashing the end and then letting the back end [the defensive backs] split and fold over the top,” Linguist said. “Our second-level guys started setting edges better than they did in the first half. And then all of a sudden those eight, nine, 10-yard runs turn into five-yard runs. And then you play a little bit harder and they turn into two-yard runs. And then you put a little bit more effort into it and now you get negative plays.”
New playmakers emerge for the Bulls
After multiple standout performances by fifth-year senior wide receiver Quian Williams, UB’s passing game needed new receiving threats to step up.
Sophomore tight ends Trevor Borland and Tyler Stephens did just that with a pair of receiving touchdowns, which sparked the Bulls’ 21-point comeback.
Stephens and Borland also recorded career-highs in receiving yards, with 52 and 27 respectively.
The two proved to be legitimate threats in the red zone, as Stephens caught a two-yard touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter to bring UB to within six and Borland caught an eight-yard strike to bring UB to within two points with 8:39 to go.
It’s unclear whether Stephens and Borland will have enhanced roles in the offense following their performances against Ohio, but the sophomores certainly made a sizable impact.
Dylan McDuffie shines in the absence of Kevin Marks Jr.
With starting running back Kevin Marks Jr. sidelined with an undisclosed injury, McDuffie had UB’s best individual rushing performance of the season against the Bobcats.
The local Sweet Home High School product reached season-highs in carries (23) and yards (143) and proved he is more than capable of being UB’s premier running back.
An explosive 58-yard run along with a four-yard rushing touchdown gave the Bulls’ dormant first-half offense the spark it needed to remain in the game.
McDuffie earned MAC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his effort, and Linguist says this is just the beginning for the junior running back.
“I think he’s scratching the surface of what he can ultimately become,” Linguist said. “I just continue to see him climb and rise.”
Alex McNulty calls game
After multiple inconsistent kicking performances — McNulty was 5-of-11 on field goals heading into the game — McNulty was trusted with the game-winning field goal at the end of regulation.
He initially missed the first kick, but an offsides penalty against Ohio gave the Caledonia, NY native another crack at the game-winning try. He hit the kick from 26 yards out to give UB the crucial 27-26 come-from-behind victory.
“It was nice to be there for my team when they needed me,” McNulty said. “I haven’t done the most consistent job of that this year, and I really wanted to be there for them [teammates]. We deserved to win and I wanted to be there to help them get that.”
As the Bulls drove down the field and entered field goal range, Linguist says he told McNulty, “This game is gonna come down to you.”
His kicker responded and gave the Bulls a crucial home win to keep their conference championship and postseason hopes alive.
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.