LINCOLN, Neb. – The University at Buffalo football team had the chance to go toe to toe with one of the blue-blood programs in college football.
Granted, Nebraska isn’t the vaunted Huskers program that much of college football is traditionally used to seeing on Saturdays. But the Bulls couldn't keep pace with a Power Five program in a 28-3 loss to the Huskers on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. In fact, the Bulls couldn't complete drives with the same ease they did in their season opener against Wagner, when they scored on 11 possessions.
If the Bulls’ loss to the Huskers was a study of stark contrasts, after a 69-7 rout of Wagner in the season opener Sept. 2, then the loss to the Huskers exhibited a much less brighter side of the Bulls.
Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the Bulls had 14 drives. All that came of those were one field goal.
When the Bulls had the chance to turn the momentum in their favor, on a handful of drives in the second half, they made plays but couldn’t complete drives that would have helped them keep pace with the Huskers.
“It’s the little things,” UB quarterback Kyle Vantrease said of the disjointed effort. “It’s a penalty here. It’s a mistake there, but those things build up and those things combined to make up for a lot of the reason we weren’t making those plays ... we couldn’t finish those drives.
The Bulls (1-0) face Nebraska (1-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
“I take a lot of that myself. I’ve got to do a better job of leading the offense, demanding it out of everybody. Because I know we’re capable of doing it.”
UB coach Maurice Linguist was more concise.
“There’s no moral victories,” Linguist said. “We prepare and play to win. We came up short.”
In a way, the outcome was as expected. Nebraska did enough to hold off an opportunistic Mid-American Conference team, even as it shot itself in the foot a few times. It felt as though neither team wanted to win, even though the Huskers took a 14-0 lead at halftime on touchdowns by Gabe Ervin Jr. and Samori Toure.
The margin of victory could have been wider. Nebraska had three touchdowns called off due to penalties, and Huskers kicker Connor Culp went 0 for 3 on field goal attempts. As Nebraska made mistakes that kept it from opening a two-touchdown lead until the fourth quarter, the Bulls made their own mistakes in the second half.
The Bulls must pivot from the spoils of a 69-7 rout of Wagner on Thursday and prepare for a Big Ten team. The charge is there, and it’s obvious.
Trailing 14-3 in the second half, the Bulls had two chances to cut the lead, but squandered two third-quarter drives that could have made a difference, or, at least, made it a more competitive contest.
The Bulls had to settle for a 45-yard field goal by Alex McNulty that ended an eight-play, 49-yard drive early in the third quarter, in which the Bulls lost 15 yards on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Dylan McDuffie.
Then, on its next possession, UB was called for sideline interference early in the six-play drive, which pushed the Bulls from their own 22 back to the 11. UB eventually punted, but the lack of productivity on the first two drives of the second half was costly.
Early in the fourth, UB reached the Nebraska 34, but on fourth-and-2, Vantrease (27 for 50 passing, 224 yards) was unable to evade contact, and his pass intended for Jovany Ruiz skidded across the UB sideline. Then, after Aapri Washington recovered a fumble off a punt return by the Huskers that revived a UB drive with about seven minutes left, McNulty missed a 50-yard field goal attempt with 6:03 left.
Then, with 2:45 left, McNulty missed a 42-yard attempt after UB receiver Khamran Laborn was called for encroachment on fourth-and-10 from the Nebraska 19.
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“We were very much right in the middle of the game in the fourth quarter, which is what we planned and prepared our team for, all week,” Linguist said. “In the fourth quarter, we didn’t make enough plays to end up getting it done.”
The Huskers finally gave themselves breathing room in the fourth when Luke Reimer intercepted Vantrease’s pass intended for Jake Molinich, which set up Irvin’s second touchdown, a 1-yard run 13 seconds into the fourth. Then, with 5:53 left, Toure scored his second touchdown on a 68-yard pass from Huskers quarterback Adrian Martinez (13 for 19 passing, 242 yards, two touchdowns).
UB left Lincoln with a $1.32 million paycheck, and a more accurate gauge of where it stands as it moves closer to its MAC schedule, and as it now prepares to face No. 17 Coastal Carolina on Saturday at UB Stadium.
“We start gauging first in absolutes, the absolute being that we didn’t win the game,” Linguist said. “Then, we have to peel back the layers. We had a lot of players play outstanding. We had a lot of individual great efforts. We’re going to watch the film and recognize who those guys are, what they did, and we’ll be very critical of ourselves in what mistakes were made and what we have to do to improve our team.”