University at Buffalo football coach Lance Leipold has to a lot to consider in the wake of a 21-20 loss to Ohio in overtime on Saturday at UB Stadium.
He has to evaluate his special teams personnel, particularly its kickers. True freshman Jackson Baltar missed a pair of field goals, including a 46-yard attempt that would have given the Bulls a 17-14 lead with less than 90 seconds left in regulation.
But Leipold may have a more significant personnel area to consider: quarterback.
Kyle Vantrease made his first start at quarterback in nearly two years, as regular starter Matt Myers was sidelined because of an upper-body injury he sustained last weekend at Miami (Ohio).
Vantrease, a redshirt sophomore from Stow, Ohio, was productive. He finished 16-for-23 passing for two touchdowns and 197 yards, including a 61-yard throw to Jaret Patterson on UB’s third play of the game from scrimmage.
Vantrease was poised, too, particularly for a player who doubled as UB’s punter on Saturday.
“He was comfortable,” said UB running back Kevin Marks, who led all rushers with 112 yards on 22 carries. “He delivered the ball. He drew guys open and he led this team. He led us to overtime, which is big. So, he did pretty good.”
Vantrease guided UB’s most fruitful passing output since its loss at Penn State, when Myers threw for 245 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-31 passing. But in his last three starts, Myers averaged 96 yards a game, including a season-low 59 yards last week at Miami.
“I’m not looking for validity in anything,” Leipold said. “But when we said there was good competition and we were confident in both quarterbacks, I think, hopefully today showed people why. My hat’s off to Kyle the way he’s handled the whole thing.”
The loss dropped the Bulls (2-4, 0-2 MAC) to last place in the MAC East, two weeks into its conference schedule. UB can still climb into contention for the title it won last year, but it has to do it with urgency.
When asked what it will take to put the Bulls back in contention, Vantrease put it bluntly – and confidently.
“We’ve got to win out,” Vantrease said. “That’s all we can do. Today we showed what we can do and the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but we’ve got a lot of potential in the room and I think this bye week is going to be huge for us as a team, mentally and physically. We’re going to come back and give it everything we’ve got the rest of the season.”
If the Bulls want to stay in the hunt for the MAC East title – and it’s an outside shot, after back-to-back losses to division foes Miami and Ohio – they need a quarterback.
Vantrease needed one game to show that right now, he’s UB’s healthiest and most productive candidate. One start is a small sample size, but Vantrease did it against the Bobcats (2-3, 1-0), the Mid-American Conference East Division and the MAC championship favorites.
Vantrease guided the Bulls through a gutsy 15-play series that bridged the first and second quarters. When UB went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard-line, Vantrease connected with Dominic Johnson for a touchdown that gave UB a 7-0 lead 2 1/2 minutes into the second quarter.
Then, tied 7-7 early in the fourth quarter, UB needed one play after Taylor Riggins’ fumble recovery to take a 14-7 lead: Vantrease’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Nunn, 13 seconds into the fourth quarter and five minutes after Louie Zervos' 52-yard attempt bounced off the crossbar and into the end zone.
But after Ohio tied the game 14-14 on O’Shaan Allison’s touchdown four minutes later, Baltar missed his second field goal with 1:27 left in regulation.
Vantrease again steered the Bulls in overtime, giving the Bulls a 20-14 lead on its first series on a 3-yard run. Baltar, however, missed the extra point, and Allison’s touchdown – and Zervos’ point-after kick – erased a prime opportunity for the Bulls to earn what could have been a valuable MAC East win.
Leipold acknowledged that with a quarterback who doubles as a punter, with a holder who is a converted wide receiver that auditioned at quarterback in the preseason (Johnson), and with question marks at place kicker – Baltar and Alex McNulty are a combined 5 for 11 on field goals, and 17 for 19 on PATs – UB’s coaching staff is working with plenty of moving parts.
Leipold said he doesn’t have a long-term prognosis on Myers. Leipold also didn’t say if Vantrease’s first start changed the complexion of UB’s quarterback dynamic.
But Vantrease gave him some food for thought as the Bulls go into a bye week.
“It gives us more confidence in the guys, and I think Kyle played a whale of a game,” Leipold said. “He kept his composure, statistically very impressive. I’m very proud of the way he played.
“Those are things that we always had confidence in him, that he could do when called upon. We’ll see where we head here, in the upcoming weeks.”