DEKALB, Ill, -- Somewhere up in football heaven, the old geezer coaches who hated the forward pass were smiling down on Huskie Stadium Saturday.
Remember the adage: When you pass the ball, three things can happen and two of them are bad?
The University at Buffalo proved that early and often in a 44-7 blowout loss to Northern Illinois.
UB’s red-shirt freshman quarterback, Tyree Jackson, had his first bad day of the season. He threw interceptions on two of his first five attempts and four pickoffs in the first half.
And those pickoffs came after UB gave up a 97-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff.
UB (1-6) is the lowest-scoring team in the Mid-American Conference, averaging 14.8 ppg.
“It’s everything you don’t want,” UB coach Lance Leipold said of the first five minutes of the game. “We gave them every kind of spark they’ve been looking for, especially after they had a tough loss last week.”
“Any time you start a game like that, it’s definitely frustrating,” Jackson said. “You just have to keep faith in God and trust the process. It’s tough when you dig a hole like that. We just have to keep getting better.”
Drops also continue to plague the UB pass offense. Last week, Jackson passed for 306 yards but left at least 100 passing yards on the field due to drops of long balls by his receivers.
This week, the first interception was a drop that caromed into the arms of a Northern Illinois linebacker. And receiver Jamarl Eiland dropped what would have been a gain of at least 55 yards in the second half.
Jackson entered the game with seven TD passes and just two interceptions.
UB has not worked the middle of the field well with its wide receivers and largely has avoided shallow and intermediate routes across the width of the field.
Both early interceptions came on shallow crosses. The first hit receiver Kamathi Holsey in the hands and bounced into the arms of Huskies linebacker Jamaal Payton.
On the next series, Jackson threw over the middle for tight end Mason Schreck, who got one hand on the ball. It deflected into the arms of Mayomi Olootu, setting up a field goal that gave the Huskies a 10-0 lead.
“I think it was a little bit of a miscommunication on it, honestly,” Schreck said. “That’s a guy Tyree is reading. I was kind of checking it down a little bit because I thought he was flowing to the running back. So I sort of choked it down, and he kept throwing me flat across the field. A little bit of a miscommunication.”
“We hadn’t run a lot of shallow crossing game,” Leipold said. “We throw some shallow crosses and the balls get tipped and get picked off in the back end. That’s tough.”
The third pickoff came on an overthrow of a seam route to Schreck. That led to a TD that made it 17-7.
Any chance of a UB comeback ended late in the first half. Jackson led UB on a 66-yard drive to the Huskies 10. He tried a back-shoulder throw to Holsey along the right side of the end zone. But the ball was too far up the field, on the front shoulder, and Olootu easily picked it off.
“He was getting re-routed, so I tried to work the back shoulder,” Jackson said. “At that point, I just have to get off it and escape and make something else happen. I probably sat on it a little bit too long.”
Northern Illinois drove the length of the field in the final minute to take a 30-7 halftime lead.
Jackson finished 25 of 41 for 203 yards.
“I just told him to stay positive,” Leipold said. “He’s handled things extremely well. I know he’s disappointed, probably a little frustrated. But as you could see he still was competing and making throws. I think he knows when they’re tipped there’s not much you can do on some days.”