OXFORD, Ohio – When the University at Buffalo football team lined up on the wrong side of the field to start the second half Saturday at Miami (Ohio), it became a harbinger of things to come for the Bulls.
Little went in the right direction for UB in the second half of a 34-20 loss to the RedHawks in the MAC opener for both teams at Yager Stadium.
The Bulls squandered a 14-13 halftime lead, and allowed the RedHawks to capitalize on short-field situations. The momentum turned three minutes into the second half, when Miami safety Mike Brown picked off UB quarterback Matt Myers and returned the ball 25 yards for a touchdown.
Brown’s second interception gave Miami its first lead, the first of three third-quarter touchdowns that put Miami ahead 34-14.
“We played with a lot of short fields today, and we’ve got to fix the little things,” said UB safety Joey Banks, whose team led 14-3 midway through the second quarter. “You see it’s a pattern. The little things are hurting us in games. Penn State, Liberty and here, the little mistakes. Mistakes got to us. You make a mistake and then they would capitalize on the mistake. We just had to keep going back out there and make sure those mistakes didn’t happen again.
“We didn’t feel like we were totally out of the game. But we just knew we were hurting ourselves.”
It wasn’t as if the defense had a bad day. The Bulls gave up 265 yards to the RedHawks – their second-lowest total this season – and held Miami to 38 passing yards in the first half.
But Miami (2-3, 1-0 MAC) started five drives in the first, second and third quarters from the UB 49-yard line. Four of those drives resulted in two field goals and two touchdowns for the RedHawks.
“It’s a demoralizing thing to a defense, to a team, when they get some stops, you come back, get the ball and you keep playing uphill,” UB coach Lance Leipold said. “Did I think our defense have a solid effort today? Yes, but for as many times as they played on short fields …”
UB's offense had a knack for generating lengthy drives that ate up the clock in their first four games. However, UB’s longest timed drive against Miami was 4 minutes, 46 seconds, and ended with UB turning the ball over on downs at the Miami 13 with 6:38 left in the game.
The Bulls also struggled to create offensive consistency, despite marquee afternoons by running backs Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks, who combined for 284 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries. Of UB's 16 possessions, only four went for at least 61 yards and nine went for less than 10 yards.
“The running game was always going to be a strength in this offense, but it wasn’t enough,” said Patterson, who ran for 183 yards on 22 carries. “We’ve got to keep getting more.”
Antonio Nunn’s 20-yard touchdown catch midway through the first quarter and Patterson’s career-long 82-yard touchdown run gave the Bulls a 14-3 lead three minutes into the second quarter, but a penalty against Max Michel for interfering with Miami's punt returner with less than 10 minutes left in the half -- one of 10 penalties for 103 yards called against the Bulls on Saturday -- opened Miami’s drive at the UB 46.
A personal foul against Ronald McGee on Miami’s 43-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-3 from the UB 25 moved the RedHawks to the 12, and Miami cut UB’s lead to 14-10 four plays later on quarterback Brett Gabbert’s 1-yard touchdown run with 6:50 left in the half.
Brown intercepted Myers (4-for-16 passing, 59 yards, touchdown, two interceptions) on first-and-10 from the UB 36 on the ensuing drive, but Gabbert (8 for 17, 120 yards, touchdown) threw a pair of incompletions, and couldn’t handle a bad snap on third down, which forced Miami to punt.
Ryan McWood caused Myers to fumble on third-and-5 from the UB 10, and his recovery put the RedHawks at the UB 3 and in position to take the lead. UB defenders Matt Otwinowski, Banks and Taylor Riggins stopped running back Davion Johnson on Miami's next three plays, and Miami cut UB’s lead to 14-13 on Sam Sloman’s 21-yard field goal with 40 seconds left in the half.
Then, Brown’s 25-yard interception return gave Miami the lead, followed by Jalen Walker’s 13-yard touchdown catch with 7:17 left in the third and Jaylon Bester’s 4-yard scoring run five minutes later. Bester led the RedHawks with 107 yards on 24 carries, and Myers was lifted in favor of Kyle Vantrease after Bester's touchdown.
Leipold said Myers left the game due to an unspecified injury and expects to know more about the nature of Myers' status and injury early next week.
“The fumble was a big one that kind of hurt us, right before the half, and then the pick that comes right back out, at the other side of halftime, we’re up 14-3, hoping to hold them at 14-6,” Leipold said. “And then all the sudden, whatever momentum we had, we just kept losing it.”
Marks scored UB’s only second-half touchdown, a 39-yard run eight seconds into the fourth quarter.
“There were a lot of turning points in this game,” Patterson said. “That pick-six, field position, us not capitalizing when the defense was playing their butts off. There were a lot of plays in this loss, but we’ve got to move forward.”