After losing its first conference game of the season last weekend to Western Michigan, 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 drives themselves, 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 36:26 compared to Kent State’s 23:34. But the Bulls, who are usually a first-half team, struggled out of the gate early 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 now fall to 0-2 in MAC play.
Head coach Maurice Linguist says he wasn’t thrilled with the early deficit but was proud of his team for their efforts to make it an even ballgame 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.”
Following the two quick scores in the third, UB’s defense stepped up with a sack of Kent State graduate quarterback Dustin Crum, which stalled the drive and forced another punt. The Bulls then converted on a 4-yard touchdown run by junior backup quarterback Matt Myers to tie the game at 31 apiece.
The Golden Flashes went on to retake the lead with a 42-yard field goal from freshman kicker Andrew Glass, but the Bulls immediately responded with a four-play drive that took less than two minutes, ending in a 10-yard touchdown run from junior running back Dylan McDuffie. With that, the Bulls took their first lead of the night, 38-34.
UB’s scoring frenzy ended once the fourth quarter started, with junior kicker Alex McNulty missing 24 and 45-yard field goal tries on back-to-back offensive possessions. Despite making all 21 of his extra points this season, McNulty has only converted on 5-of-11 field goals and the two back-to-back misses put a damper on the offensive momentum the Bulls carried over from the third quarter.
Linguist emphasized that McNulty was simply a prisoner of the moment in a high-pressure situation, but he says he will evaluate his performance with his staff this week and discuss ways to put the team in the best position possible to succeed.
“We have confidence in Alex,” Linguist said. “It’s easy to say, ‘You missed a field goal now, let’s pull the plug on everything,’ but I don’t think that’s the immediate response. I think we have to challenge him to play up to his ability. We’re always making decisions about who we think is putting us in the best position to be successful and Alex is no different. If he made the field goals, I’d be telling you the same thing because it’s our week-to-week approach to challenge our guys to play to the best of their abilities.”
Vantrease improved drastically from last week’s performance, as he threw for 229 yards and one touchdown while also moving the chains with his legs, carrying the ball seven times for 60 yards. Eastern Michigan transfer and graduate wide receiver Quian Williams continues to be the Bulls’ primary playmaker in the passing game, catching eight balls for 86 yards, including key chunk plays to facilitate the third quarter scoring explosion.
UB outperformed Kent State on the ground, garnering 321 rushing yards compared to the Flashes’ 226, but the Bulls were unable to slow down Kent State’s explosive offense, as they allowed 407 yards through the air. Redshirt sophomore Dante Cephas dominated for KSU, hauling in 13 catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite the loss, the Bulls had a much better showing on offense in the second half — something that held them back from success the previous two games. The 0-2 MAC record can be daunting, but Linguist believes his team is better than their record shows.
“To go down 21 points in the first half and not give up and end up taking the lead at one point late in the game says a lot about the trust and respect we have for one another,” Linguist said. “We made it a ballgame. Kent State is a great football team and I have a lot of respect for them but I believe we’re good too. As hard as it is to digest, I believe we’re better than what our record says. I believe we have what it takes to get ourselves in postseason play.”
UB is currently tied with Bowling Green at the bottom of the MAC East standings with an 0-2 record, and will be looking 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.