For most of Saturday's football game, as the University at Buffalo's defense knocked around Connecticut, it was tempting to question how the Bulls had won only two games this season.
The answer can be found in an offense that's as useful as a ceiling fan in hell. It made UConn's anticipated 29-0 blowout in Rentschler Field a reality. Though the Bulls' season finale ended the same way as their last seven, the defense had nothing to be ashamed of.
UConn had trouble moving the ball for most of the game and was a shoddy 4 of 16 on third downs.
It was the offense -- it's always the offense -- that led to UB's demise. In UB's nine losses this season, the Bulls scored an average of 12.5 points and were shut out twice. In their wins over Central Florida and Central Michigan, they averaged 42 points.
The offense, or lack thereof, is a significant issue that has to be addressed during the offseason as coach Jim Hofher enters his fifth season. Hofher will likely be retained and there is a chance he could sign an extension despite going 7-39 over the last four seasons.
Interim Athletics Director Bill Maher indicated recently that he's seen enough progress in the program this season after back-to-back 1-11 records the previous two years.
The Bulls reached minor milestones this season -- two wins in the Mid-American Conference for the first time, for example -- and 10 returning starters on defense and eight on offense give slight hope for optimism in 2005. Yet if the Bulls (2-9) don't find a way to move the football on a more consistent basis, 2005 will look a lot like 2004.
"I'll have to take a critical look at what we do, there's no doubt," Hofher said. "We have to examine everything, we also have to keep working to develop those guys that we have. It's first who, then what."
And the "whos" were missing Saturday. The Bulls had a paltry 96 yards of total offense, made five first downs and went 2 of 14 on third down. Starting quarterback P.J. Piskorik was a dreary 3 of 18 for 27 yards and an interception. He was replaced by Datwan Hemingway at the start of the fourth quarter, but the freshman from Albany couldn't move the team, either (1 of 3 for 8 yards).
"We played well defensively, but you cannot expect to win at this level with only four completions," Hofher said.
For the season, Hofher played four quarterbacks and started three. Combined they threw for 1,336 yards, five touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The unpredictable play at quarterback prevented the Bulls from at least becoming a middle-of-the-road team in the MAC.
"We had an opportunity in front of us and we didn't take advantage of it or execute," said senior right guard Erik Zeppuhar. "You can't expect to win with the performance we put forth."
A few instances of opportunity come to mind. With UConn leading, 7-0, UB's LaRon Haymore blocked a punt to give the Bulls first-and-10 at the Huskies' 22. The drive started with a false start by left tackle Zachary Love. After moving the ball 8 yards on a rush by Piskorik, senior flanker Matt Knueven dropped a pass on third-and-7 from the 19. Mike Baker's 36-yard field sailed wide left.
Then with UConn leading, 15-0, following a 39-yard Matt Nuzie field goal, the Bulls put together their best drive of the afternoon. It ended with predictable results.
Starting from its own 30, UB leaned on its running game as sophomore tailback Chris McDuffie gained 33 yards during the drive that reached the UConn 9. That's when everything fell apart.
Love was called for holding, which pushed the Bulls back to the UConn 19. Then Piskorik tossed three consecutive incompletions to set up another 36-yard try for Baker. It went wide left.
It took UConn only eight plays to respond with tailback Cornell Brockington dancing past defenders for a 43-yard touchdown and a 22-0 lead.
"We didn't take advantage of what few opportunities we did have on offense," Hofher said. "Shame on us when we get down first-and-goal on the 9 and miss a field goal. Shame on us when we block a punt and don't really (move) it deep enough in the other situation early in the game . . . We had guys open. We had good opportunities. We have to execute better. We really didn't execute well."
UB has lost its last three to the Huskies by a combined score of 91-10. The Huskies, who entered Division I-A in 2000 -- one year after UB -- are now bowl eligible for the second season in a row.
The Huskies' postseason plans could include traveling someplace nice and warm while UB returns to Buffalo with less definitive plans. The rebuilding continues.