Maybe last week's Kent State game was one of those days where enough goes amiss that it seems as if nothing goes right. Granted, the University at Buffalo wasn't supposed to blow out the Golden Flashes, but the Bulls weren't supposed to be on the receiving end of a romp, either.
And they weren't expected to be still scraping for their second Mid-American Conference victory into November, faced with the prospect of their third consecutive one-win season. UB's last chance for a conference victory is today when the Bulls (1-8, 1-6) host Central Michigan (3-6, 2-4) at 1:30 p.m. in UB Stadium (Radio 550 AM, 1280 AM).
"I'm confident our guys will be very determined in this game," said UB coach Jim Hofher. "I cannot explain why they seemed to be less than their typically determined selves (against Kent)."
The reality is the 33-7 Kent State loss was close to rock bottom for UB. The Bulls were coming off a bye week, the Golden Flashes aren't exactly one of the league's elite and it appeared to be a winnable game. But the defense allowed nearly 500 yards of total offense while the offense managed a measly 116 yards. Tailback David Alston, an All-MAC pick two years ago, experienced a Lazarus moment with 174 yards and four touchdowns, and quarterback Josh Cribbs had another day at the office with 132 yards rushing and 167 yards passing.
"We didn't perform any of our tasks," said free safety J.J. Gibson, the former Sweet Home standout who is one of 13 seniors playing their final game today in UB Stadium. "Basically, (Cribbs) did whatever he wanted to, and we had trouble stopping the running back, too. We just went downhill from there."
It was arguably Buffalo's most forgettable performance of the season and arguably their worst since losing to Division I-AA Colgate, 38-15, last season, a game that Hofher said afterward, "I can only hope as a coach that this is the low point."
"I know speaking for myself, it was one of the worst games I've ever played," said Erik Zeppuhar, a senior right guard. "I'm sure, almost to a man, everyone would say that."
Now comes Central Michigan, a team that seems to be improving under first-year coach Brian Kelly. The Chippewas sat at 2-5 before surprising Western Michigan, 24-21, in overtime after rallying from 17 points down. Last week, they suffered an emotionally draining 61-58 loss to rival Eastern Michigan in four overtimes.
Junior quarterback Kent Smith tied a 75-year-old school record with five touchdown passes, rushed for two more and scored a two-point conversion to account for 44 of the 58 points. The Bulls also have to be concerned about sophomore tailback Jerry Seymour, a second-team All-MAC selection a year ago, who is just 14 yards short of reaching the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season.
A couple of aspects work in the Bulls' favor. The Chippewas have played in overtimes the last two weeks and Kelly is concerned about how the extra minutes will affect his team. Also, defense has not been their forte and opponents are averaging 33.6 points per game, 10th in the MAC. Then again, UB has scored just seven touchdowns since its 48-20 victory over Central Florida on Oct. 2, and opponents are averaging 35.1 ppg., one spot below the Chippewas.
"They're a good football team, and I can imagine that they're going to be pretty fired up," Zeppuhar said. "They're going to look at how we played last week and I'm sure they're going to come in here and expect big things. It's going to be our job to prove ourselves as a football team and prove last week isn't really reflective of how we are as a team."