Opening the season 3-0 wasn’t going to be an easy feat for the University at Buffalo football team. Given the quirky and sometimes haphazard nature of Mid-American Conference football, the Bulls anticipated a flurry of action.
The second quarter of UB's win over Eastern Michigan featured a three-play sequence of three touchdowns in a span of less than 30 seconds and a wacky end to the half in which Eastern Michigan scored on its final play to cut Buffalo’s lead to 28-21.
"It can be indicative of our conference, or of college football, where teams are going to be aggressive," said UB coach Lance Leipold, whose team won despite giving up 490 yards of offense to the Eagles. "Like I've said before here, we're going to be aggressive, and you'll see that on the fourths and things like that that we're doing. We're going to be aggressive to score points and keep possession. And, obviously, we have to do a better job of preventing those quick strikes."
Yet UB prevailed, 35-28, because its dynamic offense came through in the fourth quarter.
Junior receiver K.J. Osborn scored his third touchdown of the game on a 75-yard pass from quarterback Tyree Jackson that gave the Bulls a 14-point lead with 12 minutes to go. The Bulls closed out the win to secure their first 3-0 start in their history as an FBS program.
Osborn had 188 yards on seven catches. Jackson was 21-of 26 passing for 325 yards and three touchdowns.
Jackson opened the game by going 9-for-9 passing for 90 yards and a touchdown pass. Jackson has 12 touchdown passes in three games -- as many touchdown passes as he had in 2017.
His 45-yard pass to Anthony Johnson on third-and-1 from the Eastern Michigan 46 set up Buffalo’s first touchdown, a 1-yard run by Kevin Marks. Marks completed the drive at 10:45 of the first quarter, one play after Eastern Michigan (2-1, 0-1 MAC) stopped Emmanuel Reed on first-and-goal from the 1.
Then, the Bulls took advantage of field position at the start of their second drive, as the defense sacked Eastern Michigan quarterback Tyler Wiegers (8-for-11 passing, 64 yards) on fourth down, and needed eight plays to take a 14-0 lead, with 2:28 left in the first. On first-and-goal from the 8, Jackson scrambled to his right and swung a touchdown pass in the opposite direction to Osborn, who was camped in the back of the end zone and covered by an Eagles defensive back.
The Eagles cut UB’s lead in half with 4:54 left in the half when Mike Glass (17-for-27, 284 yards, two touchdowns), who rotated with Wiegers, threw to Arthur Jackson III on second-and-12 from the 24. Jackson evaded a defender and sprinted down the sideline, scoring Eastern Michigan first touchdown, which cut UB’s lead to 14-7.
The Bulls, however, didn’t waste any time on the next series. Jackson found Osborn for the wide receiver’s second touchdown, a 70-yard catch, with 4:42 left.
Eastern Michigan wasn’t finished, either. The Eagles capped off a wild sequence by scoring the third touchdown in a span of 18 seconds: Blake Banham’s 75-yard catch, which cut Buffalo’s lead to 21-14 with 4:26 left in the half.
"They made a great play, and we have to respond," Jackson said. "They just did a good job. Eastern came out and it was a tough game, and that's how it is in this conference. In every game, it's going to be a tough game and we saw it through and continued to fight throughout the game."
UB regained a 14-point lead with 2:03 left in the half on Marks’ second touchdown, a 2-yard run that capped off a six-play, 65-yard drive.
Eastern Michigan, however, cut Buffalo’s off a 14-play drive that included four first-downs by the Eagles, and a pass-interference penalty against UB cornerback Cameron Lewis that put the Eagles at the UB 2.
Glass fumbled on first-and-goal from the 2, which appeared to end the half, but referees ruled via replay that time had not expired and that Glass was down with two seconds left and recovered the ball, and the Eagles called timeout with one second left. After three time outs (two for UB), the Eagles cut Buffalo’s lead to 28-21 on Shaq Vann’s 1-yard touchdown as time expired.
"I was a little confused on it," Leipold said. "The ruling was that they called him down, so once he's down, the fumble and everything else, it doesn't matter. They called him down.
"I was just a little perplexed. If a guy's down and it's not a fumble, I don't know how you quickly get that timeout called that fast after time expiring. That's what was called, and yeah, there were some odd plays near the goal line."
Buffalo stopped the Eagles' 12-play drive that started with 6:20 left in the third. The Eagles reached the UB 20 before being called for an illegal block, which pushed them back to the 30. On second-and-16 from the UB 30, Chuck Harris sacked Wiegers. On the next play, Harris forced Glass to fumble, and Tyrone Hill recovered the ball at the UB 15 to end the Eagles' drive.
"Our coach always tells us, 'big plays are going to happen,' " said Harris, who had eight tackles and 2.5 sacks. "It's a part of football. But we have to respond to adversity, every time."
Osborn's third touchdown, a 75-yard pass from Jackson, gave the Bulls some breathing room at 35-21. Glass scored on a 1-yard run for Eastern Michigan with 42 seconds left in the game.
"Chuck Harris just played with relentless effort all day long," Leipold said. "Played well, was all over the place, as well as some of our other guys. But we battled. As I just told the team, there's a lot of things I like about a game like this. Big plays, an exciting game. We come away with a win but we still have plenty of things we need to clean up. That makes it able to keep their attention early next week."
Buffalo plays Rutgers at noon Saturday (Sept. 22) at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers lost 55-14 to Kansas on Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.