UB has made it a habit of playing in close games this season.
The Bulls’ last five games were decided by an average of 4.4 points.
But that wasn’t the case in the team’s Week 8 matchup against Zips.
UB (4-4, 2-2 MAC) dominated Akron (2-6, 1-3 MAC) in all aspects of the game Saturday afternoon and coasted to a comfortable 45-10 road victory.
“We really challenged our team that the next progression of where we are in the season was to play 60 minutes of our brand and our style of football,” head coach Maurice Linguist said after the game. “We really felt like our players, just across the board, played at a high level. The connection and the confidence in the locker room continue to grow and I’m certainly proud of how they’re playing right now.”
Senior quarterback Kyle Vantrease parlayed a strong performance against Ohio last week into an even better showing against the Zips. The Stow, OH native threw for 241 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a homecoming game of sorts.
Redshirt fifth-year wide receiver Dominic Johnson, junior running back Dylan McDuffie and freshman wide receiver Jamari Gassett all found the end zone through the air for the Bulls.
Gassett — who recorded seven catches for 72 yards entering Saturday’s contest — more than doubled his average receiving output with four catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.
“His confidence is growing, he’s understanding and seeing things more,” Linguist said. “When we bring him on the shallow mesh crosses, [he’s learning] when to keep going, when to sit down, how to find the space. How to catch, turn and puncture and get those hidden yards. He’s making plays and playing at a high level for us.”
On the ground, McDuffie, Vantrease and redshirt fifth-year tight end Jake Molinich all punched in rushing touchdowns for the Bulls. McDuffie also recorded 111 yards on 22 carries while junior running back Ron Cook Jr. rushed for 37 yards on nine attempts.
The Bulls’ defense had no trouble containing Akron’s unique two-quarterback offense and held the Zips to 10 points and just 75 yards through the air.
The game was a comedy of errors for the Zips, who pulled redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Gibson after two scoreless drives. Redshirt sophomore quarterback D.J. Irons didn’t fare much better.
The Lawrenceville, GA native was constantly under pressure and turned the ball over three times. Right when it seemed Akron was about to cap off a strong scoring drive in the third quarter, Irons squandered the opportunity with a fumble through the back of the end zone, which resulted in a safety.
UB overpowered Akron at the line of scrimmage, with the Bulls’ relentless pass rush wreaking havoc in the backfield with a season-high 11 sacks.
Despite generating constant pressure, UB’s pass rush faced adversity against the Zips.
After recording a strip-sack in the first quarter, junior defensive end Max Michel was carted off the field with an undisclosed injury. Fifth-year defensive end Taylor Riggins was also out with an injury, so other members of the defensive line were forced to step up.
Sophomore defensive end Kyler Laing exploded for 3.5 sacks, including a strip-sack in the third quarter that set up a Molinich touchdown run.
Linguist cited Laing’s standout performance as a product of UB’s “next man up” mentality. Injuries are bound to happen, and Laing was a player who seized the moment when the opportunity arose.
“You grow through what you go through,” Linguist said of Laing. “He’s a guy that’s growing and [I’m] just really proud of the confidence that he has and what he’s doing right now.”
The win places UB back into the conversation for the top spot in the MAC East. After overcoming a 21-point deficit against Ohio last week and blowing out the Zips on the road Saturday, the Bulls are showing lots of grit and toughness.
“It was a great team effort,” Laing said. “Last week we were down 21 in the first quarter but we’re just a tough team. Like Coach ‘Mo’ said, we grow through a lot of stuff, and that's what we’re doing this year.”
The Bulls will head back to Buffalo to take on the Bowling Green Falcons (2-6, 0-4 MAC) next Saturday at noon. The game will be aired on the CBS Sports Network.
Anthony DeCicco is the Editor-in-Chief of The Spectrum. His words have appeared in outlets such as SLAM Magazine andSyracuse.com. In 2020, he was awarded First Prize for Sports Column Writing at the Society of Professional Journalists' Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards. In his free time, he can be found watching ‘90s Knicks games and reading NFL Mock Drafts at 3 a.m.