When the spotlight shined on the University at Buffalo football team, Army didn’t allow the Bulls to bask in the glow.
The Black Knights didn’t even give the Bulls much room to move as they handed UB its first loss off the season, 42-13, Saturday at UB Stadium.
In front of 23,671 fans, in a near-packed house whose attendance included MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher and representatives from the Orange Bowl, the Bulls couldn’t muster much in the way of rhythm on their offense.
Army (3-2) confounded UB with its defense, as much as it did with its triple-option offense, which generated 372 yards and six touchdowns, and held the ball for nearly 38 minutes. The Black Knights’ defense limited the Bulls to 255 yards, and held quarterback Tyree Jackson to a season-low 152 yards on 10-of-24 passing.
“They did a great job against Oklahoma last week, then took it to us today,” Jackson said, referring to Army’s 28-21 overtime loss Sept. 22 in Norman, Okla. “It’s a tough loss. But I don’t think any less of our team and any less of our offense.
“But today was just a tough day.”
Of UB’s nine drives, only three went for at least 59 yards, and only three lasted at least 3 minutes, 41 seconds.
When UB had chances to convert on fourth-down opportunities, notably Jackson’s first-quarter attempt at a touchdown pass intended for Antonio Nunn, and 28-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, the Bulls couldn’t produce.
BLOCKED! What a play by Elijah Riley to score off the field goal return for Army. pic.twitter.com/DvgU38SuYb
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 29, 2018
“You could tell the rhythm and timing was off today,” UB coach Lance Leipold said. “You could see it. I think anyone who has seen us play this year would probably say there wasn’t (rhythm). Anthony (Johnson) rarely played. Then, we’re moving guys around a bit, so I think some things were kind of off. You try to create some things and you never fully really got in sync.
“In games like this, when they (Army) control the ball like they do, trying to maximize your possessions and doing things, it was totally an unproductive day, as a whole.”
It was far from the Bulls’ drubbing of Rutgers last week on the road.
“I think we got a little bit frustrated,” said UB wide receiver K.J. Osborn, who had four catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. “It wasn’t as easy as it has been, going through our first four games. It was a challenge.”
The Bulls appeared to set the tempo early and took a 7-0 lead after four plays, on Osborn’s 53-yard touchdown catch at 1:11. The UB defense followed suit about five minutes in, as Brandon Williams intercepted Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. (4-for-5 passing, 91 yards, touchdown, interception).
On second-and-15 from the Army 26, Osborn appeared to score his second touchdown under coverage by Army defensive back Elijah Riley, but officials ruled the ball hit the ground before Osborn had control of it. Jackson was unable to complete a pass on the next play, and the 11-play, 22-yard drive ended two plays later as Jackson’s 26-yard pass attempt to Nunn went out of bounds on fourth-and-14.
Army tied the game at 7-7 with 2:12 left in the first, on Calen Holt’s 5-yard touchdown run. Holt’s touchdown ended an 11-play drive that lasted 5 minutes, 44 seconds, in which Army converted three third downs, including Holt’s scoring run on third-and-goal.
That play set the tone for the pace of Army’s offense. Connor Slomka gave the Black Knights a 14-7 lead at 7:53 of the second to finish a 12-play, 77-yard drive that lasted nearly seven minutes, and the Black Knights converted three third downs on the drive.
Army was 12 of 17 on third- and fourth-down conversions, including 3-for-3 on fourth down.
“You have to hold them on first and second down,” UB linebacker Khalil Hodge said. “When they’re at third-and-2 or third-and-1, you know what Army is going to do, and that’s the situation they kind of want themselves in. They’re perfectly fine with fourth-and-1, fourth-and-2. Not being in those predicaments is what we needed to do today, and we didn’t get that done.”
Then, UB appeared to find a sense of urgency on the ensuing drive, moving to the Army 11. The Bulls attempted a 28-yard field goal on fourth-and-8, but Wunmi Oyetuga blocked Adam Mitcheson’s kick, and the ball caromed into the hands of Riley, who ran untouched into the opposite end zone for an 80-yard touchdown return to give Army a 21-7 lead at the half.
UB reached the Army 1 on nine plays on its first drive of the second half. Pushed back to the Army 8 on a pair of losses, a pass interference call on fourth-and-goal against Jaylon McClinton revived the drive. On second-and-goal at the 1, Kevin Marks leaped over a pile of players to help the Bulls cut Army’s lead to 21-13 with 7:55 left in the third.
However, the Black Knights added three touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters: Hopkins' 25-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Asberry, a 2-yard run by Darnell Woolfork and Luke Langdon's 27-yard run that made it 42-13.
“We didn’t respond real well,” Leipold said. “The body language, kids got frustrated, and we haven’t had our backs to the wall and being down like that, we didn’t respond to it well. I’ve got to do a better job for us to handle that.”