The University at Buffalo offense is in crisis mode.
The Bulls’ attack did almost nothing right until the game was out of reach in Saturday’s 44-20 loss to Kent State.
While the UB defense gave up 224 rushing yards to Kent State quarterback Nick Holley, the Bulls’ offense was the team’s No. 1 problem.
UB running backs Jordan Johnson and Johnathan Hawkins combined to carry 12 times for 13 yards in the first half.
Johnson lost a fumble deep in UB territory in the second quarter that was scooped up and returned for a Kent State touchdown. That broke the game open, giving the Golden Flashes a 20-3 lead.
UB managed just two field goals in its first eight possessions. It had 48 rushing yards on 21 carries at that point, and by the time UB got the ball back for a ninth try, it was down, 27-6.
“It continues to be very frustrating,” said UB coach Lance Leipold. “We thought we could get Jordan downhill a little more.”
Kent State’s defense ranks in the upper-half of the Mid-American Conference. However, it allowed 141 rushing yards to Akron last week.
Johnson finished with 39 yards on 17 carries. Hawkins had 22 on six carries. UB’s leading rusher was quarterback Tyree Jackson, who had 40 yards on 11 carries.
Leipold said UB has tried different tactics to get the run game going.
“We did,” he said. “It’s like my late mother used to say, ‘Why do you keep running the same play up the middle?’ Well they’re not the same plays. They’re blocked differently. There’s different things you’re doing.”
When UB tried to pass, there was little separation to be found. Kent State copied Nevada’s tactics of earlier this season and played a lot of press coverage. UB’s receivers didn’t get open often enough.
“Not as good as we need to be,” Leipold said of his wideouts against press coverage. “That’s kind of been a story. Even late in the game, we’re losing confidence. We’re getting pushed out of bounds on some plays. Even late, we’re cutting routes short of the depths that they’re supposed to be then we’re short on first downs. They’re trying.”
“We knew they were going to challenge us deep,” Kent State coach Paul Haynes said. “We play a lot of man coverage, we put those guys on islands. We never get upset at them if they catch a couple balls on them cause that’s part of the game. We keep after it.”
Jackson hit 20 of 39 passes for 250 yards and one touchdown. He threw no interceptions.
Jackson’s accuracy was pretty good, even in the first half. He just did not have many open receivers. Jackson’s biggest miss came late in the first half, when he had a wide open Kamathi Holsey on the sideline but threw instead to Marcus McGill on a slant. The third-down throw was batted away.
Leipold said the blame falls on him as coach.
“I’m not going to blame the players,” he said. “Obviously it’s not good enough right now. Those statistics are very poor. It needs to get better.”
Records: UB fell to 1-4. Kent State is 2-4.
Momentum killer: UB pulled within 27-13 with 11:36 left in the game. However, Kent State’s Raekwon James returned the ensuing kickoff 66 yards to the UB 31. James had a wide alley to run up the left side of the field thanks to good blocking. Holley did the rest, running for 31 yards over five plays and scoring on a 2-yard run with 8:09 left. That put Kent ahead, 34-13.
Key turnover: Kent State defensive tackle Jon Cunningham forced the key turnover of the game, bursting up the middle and batting the ball out of Johnson’s arms just after he took the handoff from Jackson. Middle linebacker James Alexander picked it up and waltzed 15 yards for a touchdown. Instead of cutting into a 13-3 deficit, UB was down, 20-3, with 3:35 left in the first half.
“Again, I’m not going to blame one guy,” Leipold said. “That guy plays awful hard for us. It’s 13-3, you’re getting the ball with 3:30 to go and you’re getting the ball to start the second half.”
Big debut: The 402 yards of total offense produced by Kent’s Holley last week against Akron was the first time a Golden Flashes player hit the 400-yard mark since Josh Cribbs did it in 2004.
Lineup notes: UB shuffled its offensive line due to the fact starting right tackle Tyler O’Henly missed his second straight game due to a concussion. Junior David Goldsby, who started the first four games at right guard, shifted over to tackle. Freshman Tomas Jack-Kurdyla made his first start at right guard. ... Kent’s first-team all-MAC cornerback, Demetrius Monday, missed the past three games with an ankle injury but was back Saturday.
In the house: Paid attendance on Homecoming Day was 20,532.
Up next: UB plays host to Ball State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Ball State (3-3) was picked for fifth out of sixth in the MAC West. The Cardinals won three of their first four games, although one was against a lower-division foe and two were against low-ranked top-division teams. Ball State lost to Central Michigan on Saturday.