At this point in his career, the personal-best 17 tackles senior Bobby Johnson finished with Saturday night ring hollow. His University at Buffalo football career is down to only a handful of games, and wins are the only thing that matter.
Victories are hard to come by at UB.
"It feels good to do something personally, but I've been here for two years and I just feel our team is a lot better than what we're showing right now," said a solemn Johnson after the Bulls fell to Central Michigan on Saturday night, 16-8. "We can only play one game at a time and we need to step it up."
The Bulls (1-3, 0-2 Mid-American Conference) suffered through yet another mind-numbing defeat, an insipid contest that boiled down to the Chippewas overpowering the Bulls on the line of scrimmage while the Bulls couldn't put together anything offensively.
A crowd of 10,930 watched as Central Michigan (2-2, 1-2) rumbled its way to 285 yards on the ground and 424 yards of offense behind a line that averages a meaty 320 pounds. It seemed like the only times the Chippewas' offense struggled was when it elected to pass and after tailbacks Robbie Mixon and Kenan Lawhorne went down with injuries early in the second quarter. Before he injured his ankle, Mixon rushed for 70 yards on nine carries and one touchdown. Mixon didn't return, but Lawhorne and fullback Terrance Jackson filled in the blanks. Jackson finished with a game-high 123 yards on 16 carries, while Lawhorne collected 71 yards on 16 carries. It was Jackson's first 100-yard rushing game of his career.
"Jackson was a really good back," said Johnson. "He found his holes but like coach was saying, no one had a really big gain and 20 yards was their longest run. He was hitting the holes right and he was getting 5 or 6 yards every single time, and it was putting us in a bind. They were doing what they wanted to do."
It was Central Michigan's first road win since defeating Ball State, 27-21, in the 1999 season finale.
"We knew coming in that they were a big old physical bunch," said UB coach Jim Hofher. "They didn't necessarily rip us with long runs, but with a lot of consistent gains. . . . We did everything that we had. We were as thick a front as we normally would be against a good running team."
Central Michigan's ground work wasn't a huge surprise. The Chippewas rolled up 165 yards in a loss at Michigan State, and Mixon averages nearly 4 yards a carry.
Meanwhile, UB, playing its first home game since opening the season with a 31-15 loss to Rutgers on Aug. 30, could not duplicate last week's offensive production when it defeated Connecticut on the road, 37-20, to snap an 18-game road losing streak. Offensive woes have been a recurring theme in each of the Bulls' losses this season.
This time, the Bulls managed only 236 yards of total offense as quarterback Joe Freedy struggled, completing 17 of 36 passes for 194 yards and two interceptions. He was sacked six times. Freedy was coming off perhaps his most complete game as a collegian last week when he completed 16 of 26 passes for 175 yards and a TD in the second half, and the Bulls scored on six consecutive possessions. Saturday, UB and Freedy weren't nearly as productive.
The Bulls' lone touchdown came with 45 seconds left when Freedy hit tight end Chad Bartoszek for a 32-yard touchdown. Freedy found Bartoszek again to complete the two-point conversion, but Central Michigan recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.
The Bulls' ground game, which piled up 149 yards at UConn, managed only 42 Saturday.
"The turnovers were a big part of the game," Hofher said. "Who knows if we don't have the turnovers. We had some chances to get some points and we didn't. Our guys did not back down, regardless of whether they were at a size disadvantage."
Third-down conversions also played a huge role in the Bulls' loss. They converted only 4 of 15, while the Chippewas converted 10 of 22.
"That was the tale of the tape," Hofher said. "We were not good offensively on third down, and they were good to very good on third down."
UB was trying to record back-to-back victories for the first time since 1998 when it defeated Morgan State and Canisius, while Central Michigan rebounded nicely from a 52-28 loss to league-favorite Toledo.
The Bulls are 0-2 in the league this season, and 2-16 in MAC play over the last two-plus seasons.
The Bulls could be waiting awhile for another victory.
UB plays at Miami (Ohio) on Saturday before hosting Marshall on Oct. 13. Then the Bulls travel to Kent State (Oct. 20) and Eastern Michigan (Oct. 27).
Opening up in a lively no-huddle offense, Central Michigan looked good early and took a 7-0 lead with 6:30 remaining in the first period, following a six-play, 76-yard drive capped by a 20-yard run by tailback Robbie Mixon. The Chippewas made it 10-0 on their next possession when Paul Savich knocked in a 44-yard field goal with 2:01 left in the first quarter. Savich tacked on two more in the quarter to make it 16-0 at halftime.