ATHENS, Ohio – In the wake of the University at Buffalo football team’s 52-17 loss Wednedsay night at Ohio University, Bulls linebacker Khalil Hodge made a vow.
"I promise you, as a defense and as a team, Buffalo will be a lot better as a defense next week," Hodge said.
With the loss to the Bobcats, the Bulls (9-2, 6-1) squandered their best opportunity to clinch the program’s first MAC East Division championship since 2008.
UB now must win Nov. 23 at Bowling Green to earn the MAC East title and a berth in the MAC championship game at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 against Northern Illinois at Ford Field in Detroit. NIU clinched the MAC West championship earlier this week.
“In game No. 12 of the year, you've got to find out what's left in the tank,” UB coach Lance Leipold said Wednesday. “You want to have a chance to play for a conference championship, and, obviously, we didn't play like a team like that (Wednesday).”
The Bulls were supposed to return to Western New York with their first MAC East Division championship in 10 years. But the Bulls looked like anything but a championship-caliber team against the Bobcats, and little like the high-scoring team that was unblemished in its first six MAC games.
Ohio thrashed the Bulls’ defense for 646 yards, the most the Bulls have given up all year. Prior to Wednesday, UB allowed an average of 328.2 yards a game in their first 10 games, and had only given up more than 400 yards a game twice this season.
“They came out hungry and they played hard,” UB quarterback Tyree Jackson said. “We didn’t help our defense much. They (Ohio) had 52 points, but we did not help them on offense.”
UB will count on senior leaders like Hodge and center James O’Hagan to lead them into a must-win game at Bowling Green. The Falcons have won only two games and Bowling Green fired Mike Jinks on Oct. 14, after two-and-a-half years at the helm of the football program, replacing Jinks with interim head coach Carl Pelini.
Still, UB won't underestimate the Falcons, who wield the MAC's top passing combination in quarterback Jarret Doege (239.8 yards per game) and receiver Scott Miller (103.7 yards per game).
“This is what you sign up for,” Jackson said. “You want to be a part of these must-win games in November. We’ve got to be ready for Bowling Green.”
Ohio hosts Akron in its regular-season finale Nov. 23 at Peden Stadium in Athens. If Ohio defeats Akron and Buffalo loses, then Ohio wins the MAC East.
"Next week is going to show what this team is really all about,” Hodge said. “With our senior-led group, we're going to come out and handle our business. I feel like offense and defense, we're going to get this thing in the right direction and we're going to go out and play like we've played all year and get a big win."
Following its 13-7 win Wednesday at Northern Illinois, Miami (Ohio) could also throw a wrench into UB and Ohio’s plans. The Bulls defeated the RedHawks earlier this season, but the RedHawks also defeated Ohio 30-28 on Nov. 7, and are tied for second in the MAC East with Ohio at 5-2.
Miami closes the regular season Tuesday against Ball State in Oxford, Ohio. If Miami wins Tuesday and if the Bulls lose at Bowling Green and the Bobcats beat Akron on Friday, Miami wins the MAC East on the basis of head-to-head competition, with its win against the Bobcats.
But the Bulls aren’t focusing on the factors they can’t control, or different scenarios for other MAC East teams. The Bulls are in a playoff situation and have to focus on their own efforts.
“This is a MAC championship-or-bust game for us, and it has to be taken as such,” Hodge said. “Win and we’re still in. That’s our mindset. It’s a playoff mentality now, and that’s how we’re going to approach this week.”
Leipold put confidence in his program, even after such a lopsided loss.
“We've got to bounce back,” Leipold said. “I love this team. I love what they're about. I love their resiliency, of what they'll be. I'm confident they'll have a good week of preparation.”