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UB run defense turns a new leaf in close opening loss at Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS – If this is a true indication of what the University at Buffalo is in 2017, Bulls fans might be in for some excitement this season.

UB, a 24-point underdog in its season-opener, fought the University of Minnesota down to the wire before losing, 17-7, Thursday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Forget the cliché there are no moral victories.

This is a UB team that went 2-10 last season and lost seven games by 21 points or more. The run defense ranked 124th out of 128 teams in the nation. When expectations are so low, moral victories have relevance.

Minnesota took a 14-7 lead into halftime. The UB defense stopped the Golden Gophers on five straight possessions of the second half. Minnesota finally managed a 43-yard field goal with 2:05 left for the final margin.

"As I told our team afterward, we didn't come here to play for a moral victory or hope to keep it close," UB coach Lance Leipold said. "I'm disappointed. We let some opportunities get away from us. We had some opportunities to put more points on the board. We didn't."

Then Leipold acknowledged the obvious: "That said, I'm awfully proud of our football team. I think we took a big step forward as a program in what we're hoping to develop as far as playing with a relentless attitude and battling to the end and making it tough on people."

UB's offense could not manage a tying score largely because it could not mount a running game against a bigger, faster Minnesota front seven. The Bulls eked out 51 rushing yards and 2.3 yards a carry.

Minnesota is not a Big 10 Conference power. But the Golden Gophers are expected to have a winning season this year. They went 9-4 last season and won a bowl game. They return their top two running backs, who combined for 1,800 yards last season.

UB allowed 253 rushing yards a game last year and 5.1 a carry. Minnesota gained 169 and just 3.3 a carry.

UB junior middle linebacker Khalil Hodge is a tackling machine. He ranked seventh in the nation last year with 10.25 tackles a game. He made 20 tackles against the Gophers.

"From a defensive standpoint, I do feel like it's a stepping stone," Hodge said. "Way better than where we were at last year. So that's a positive."

Minnesota's longest run was 16 yards. The Gophers had only two runs of 10 yards or more. Last year, UB gave up seven 10-plus run gains a game and 10 40-plus runs. Only seven teams allowed more.

UB's front four lacks edge-rush ability but it didn't get pushed around. Tackles Chris Ford and Justin Brandon were stout, as were ends Demone Harris and Charles Harris.

"I felt the momentum shifting to our side early in the second half," Hodge said. "That was our plan. It’s a testament to the coaches and to the D-line. Everyone in the front seven came out here with a goal in mind. I still think we gave up too many rushing yards but bend but don't was kind of our mindset today."

UB will have to prove it has a run game of its own. The next three weeks will provide a better indication. The offense showed promise through the air with the breakout performance of junior receiver Anthony Johnson, who caught 11 passes.

One competitive, entertaining game is in the books. Let's see what September brings for the Bulls.



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