The University at Buffalo needed to keep self-inflicted mistakes to a minimum Saturday against a University of Nevada team that was bigger and stronger along both lines of scrimmage.
The Bulls made just enough mistakes to sabotage their fourth-quarter comeback bid and dropped a 24-21 decision.
“It wasn’t as clean or as pretty as it needed to be in order to win a game like this,” said UB coach Lance Leipold.
Nevada’s big defensive line put UB into a one-dimensional mode for the entire first half and sent Bulls quarterback Joe Licata to the turf with numerous big hits.
Nevada’s powerful running game amassed 202 yards in the first half and finished with 289 yards on the ground.
Nevertheless, UB hung in and had two chances to tie or win in the final five minutes.
The key miscues that cost the Bulls were:
• Running back Jordan Johnson fumbled a handoff from Licata at the Nevada 44 with 3:28 to go, with UB needing just 15 more yards to get into position for a tying field goal. It was a play-action draw play, and a defensive tackle was bearing down on Johnson as he took the ball. Johnson never fully had control, and Nevada recovered.
“It was trying to do too much at the wrong time,” Johnson said. “I was trying to make a play and it was the wrong time.”
• Early in the fourth quarter with Nevada leading, 17-13, UB appeared to force a punt when true freshman cornerback Cameron Lewis broke up a third-down pass for Nevada’s best receiver, 6-foot-5 Hasaan Henderson. But UB red-shirt freshman defensive end Randy Anyanwu pushed Nevada’s quarterback to the ground after he released the pass. It wasn’t flagrant, but it was unnecessary. Anyanwu was called for a personal foul. Three plays later, Nevada scored to take a 24-13 lead.
“We can’t have a push in the back, we can’t have a late hit, we can’t have hands to the face,” Leipold said. “It needs to be cleaned up. When you’ve got a fine line, and that’s where it’s at right now, we can’t beat ourselves in those situations.”
• Late in the third quarter, UB was on the march and advanced to the Nevada 29. On a second-and-4 play, Licata tried to hit Ron Willoughby on a pump-and-go route. But Licata’s arching pass easily was intercepted in the end zone by Nevada safety Dameon Baber. Willoughby got a little tied up with a cornerback as he broke for the end zone and couldn’t get in position to break up the pass against double coverage.
“He got tied up but I didn’t see the safety on the back side,” Licata said, referring to Baber. “So I put way too much air under it. That throw’s gotta be on the back side. Not seeing the safety, that’s what happened.”
The Bulls were game.
The run defense, which gave up runs of 91 and 55 yards in the first half, held the Wolf Pack’s running backs to 93 yards in the second half.
Licata and the passing game, which struggled last week, moved the ball against a talented Mountain West Conference opponent. UB outgained Nevada, 487-379, and held an first-down edge of 23-15.
Licata hit 28 of 46 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns. He made some clutch second-half throws in the face of pressure to keep UB scoring drives alive.
But UB’s last-ditch rally fell short.
The Bulls got the ball at their own 15 with 2:26 left. Licata moved them as far as the Nevada 42. But a fourth-and-15 throw for receiver Collin Lisa was overthrown and intercepted by Baber with 1:20 left.
“Turnovers and untimely penalties put you in bad positions,” Leipold said. “It’s something we’ve got to get cleaned up sooner than later.”
Nevada improved to 2-2. UB fell to 2-2.