After dropping its Mid-American Conference opener to Western Michigan last week, UB football (2-4, 0-2 MAC) fell to the Kent State Golden Flashes (3-3, 2-0 MAC), 48-38, at Dix Stadium in Kent, OH on Saturday night.
The Bulls found themselves down 31-10 at the half, after they were unable to contain Kent’s offense and execute and sustain their own drives, going just 3-of-10 on third-down conversions.
Unlike last weekend against Western Michigan, UB won the time of possession battle, holding onto the football for 36:22 compared to Kent State’s 23:38. But the Bulls, who are usually a first-half team, struggled out of the gate this weekend in Ohio.
The offense was forced to make adjustments in the locker room at halftime, and they did — but only to an extent. The Bulls cut the lead to seven and even took a three-point lead at the end of the third quarter. But they didn’t do enough to get the victory, and sit at 0-2 in MAC play.
Head coach Maurice Linguist says he wasn’t thrilled with the early deficit but was proud of his team’s effort to climb back in the third quarter.
“When we came out of that first half, we got [senior quarterback] Kyle [Vantrease] involved a little more in zone-read and we were able to move the chains effectively and score on the opening drive,” Linguist said. “We came right back out on defense, made them punt it back to us and drove down again and before you knew it, we were down seven and we put ourselves back in the middle of the ballgame.”
Here are four takeaways from the Bulls’ second consecutive conference loss:
The offense finally showed up in the second half
The Bulls’ offense certainly struggled in both games prior to Kent State.
UB’s offense was mostly dormant in the second half against Old Dominion and Western Michigan. The Bulls scored a combined 10 points in the second half against the Monarchs and the Broncos. The ineffectiveness of the offense allowed ODU to score 27 unanswered second-half points in Week 4 and WMU to score 17 unanswered second-half points the following week.
Coming out of the tunnel in the second half this week, Linguist made the adjustments needed to kickstart a scoring explosion. But most importantly, the adjustments sparked a consistent offensive gameplan. After only managing to score 10 points on five drives in the first half, UB came out of the half firing.
The Bulls scored four touchdowns on four consecutive drives — resulting in 28 unanswered points in the third quarter.
Vantrease threw 45 times, his second-highest pass attempt total of the season behind the Nebraska game in Week 2, when he threw 50 times. Graduate wide receiver Quian Williams continues to be Vantrease’s favorite target, as the Oklahoma City native hauled in eight balls for 86 yards.
The Bulls recorded 549 total yards of offense and ran 99 total plays, their most against an FBS opponent so far this season.
UB’s running game looked similar to 2020
It’s no easy feat to replace the production of a runner like Jaret Patterson, who torched the Golden Flashes with a historic 409-yard, eight touchdown performance last season. But the three-headed backfield of senior Kevin Marks Jr. and juniors Dylan McDuffie and Ron Cook Jr. make do.
McDuffie led the Bulls with 10 carries for 87 yards and one touchdown, while Marks recorded 16 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns. Cook balanced out the Bulls’ rushing attack with 14 carries for 75 yards. UB’s ground game produced 312 total yards, its highest output of the season.
There is no true lead back in this offense, which could be a reason the rushing attack has yet to be unleashed in the manner it was last season. But in a game of catch-up, the Bulls stuck to the run game and it nearly paid off. Linguist and offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery must focus on developing more of a passing identity if UB wants to compete for a conference championship, but it’s clear the running game has been established and is something the Bulls can lean on when needed.
Alex McNulty struggles in crucial moments
Junior kicker Alex McNulty has struggled this season, making only 5-of-11 field goal attempts, including two crucial fourth quarter misses against Kent State — a 24-yarder with less than ten minutes remaining and a 45-yarder the following drive.
Despite making all five extra point attempts, the two missed field goals put a damper on the Bulls’ offensive momentum and put an end to the scoring frenzy. But Linguist says he isn’t worried about McNulty’s struggles and said he was simply a prisoner of the moment.
“We’ll sit down as a staff and look at what we have to do,” Linguist said. “You know, you say he’s 5-of-11 but some of those are longer field goals we’ve seen Alex make in practices or in previous games. We have confidence in him and we have to challenge him to play up to his ability.”
There will likely be discussions between the coaching staff about a possible change at the kicker position, but McNulty seems likely to remain the starter. Junior Jackson Balter and sophomore Garrett Selover are apparent candidates to replace McNulty if a change is made.
UB’s defense needs to gain consistency
The defense couldn’t seem to get off the field against Western Michigan last week. Multiple three-and-out’s by the offense combined with late-game fatigue resulted in crucial mistakes against the Broncos.
Even though it was another loss, the opposite was the case against Kent State. The Golden Flashes’ offense consists of fast-paced, no-huddle plays intended to catch opposing defenses off-guard, and it did just that against UB.
The defense let up a huge 54-yard catch on the first play of the game to fifth-year wide receiver Abram Keshunn which led to an early Kent State touchdown, and it all went downhill from there.
The Bulls allowed 226 yards on the ground and 407 yards through the air. Overall, UB was gashed for 7.8 yards per play. Kent graduate quarterback Dustin Crum dominated through the air and on the ground, recording two rushing touchdowns and three passing touchdowns — all of which went to redshirt sophomore Dante Cephas, who caught 13 balls for 186 yards.
UB needs to find some continuity on both sides of the ball if there’s going to be any sort of opportunity for postseason play.
The Bulls are currently tied with Bowling Green at the bottom of the MAC East standings with an 0-2 record. UB will look for its first conference win of the season against the Ohio Bobcats (1-5, 1-1 MAC) at UB Stadium on Saturday at noon. The game will be aired on ESPN+.
Hunter Skoczylas is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com or @HunterSkoczylas on Twitter
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.