Maurice Linguist’s first season as head coach of the University at Buffalo football team ended on a low note in the Midwest.
In a rematch of the 2020 Mid-American Conference championship game, there were few bright spots in the Bulls’ 20-3 loss to Ball State.
As a result, the Bulls' season came to a close and the Cardinals earned their sixth win and became bowl eligible, and now all six MAC West Division teams are bowl eligible with six wins.
The Bulls (4-8, 2-6 MAC) spotted the Cardinals (6-6, 4-4) a pair of touchdowns in the first 13 minutes of the regular-season finale for both teams Tuesday at Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Ind., and could never create an offensive rhythm.
“The thing we’ll point to immediately is the ball and the turnovers we had,” Linguist said of UB’s struggle to create an offensive flow against the Cardinals. “Early turnovers hurt us, and the field positioning off a blocked punt (in the first quarter) put us in a hole, and we never really recovered from there.”
The Bulls finished with 336 yards of offense, including 188 receiving yards, but could not sustain drives. Of the Bulls’ 12 possessions, only two ended at or inside the Ball State 20-yard-line, including UB’s second-to-last drive, which ended when Ball State safety Bryce Cosby intercepted UB quarterback Matt Myers at the Cardinals 2 with less than two minutes left in the game.
“We’d move the ball a little bit and the drive would stall, and we didn’t convert on a couple opportunities,” Linguist said. “The totality of the entire game, it was an inconsistent day, overall. We’ve been solid moving the ball but we couldn’t do it today.”
Myers finished with 188 yards on 18 of 39 passing, and was intercepted four times. UB running back Dylan McDuffie had 67 rushing yards on 18 carries, and the Sweet Home product became the third UB running back in four seasons to cross the 1,000-yard rushing mark. McDuffie finished the season with 1,049 yards.
“The more responsibility we gave him, the better he got,” Linguist said of McDuffie. “We continued to increase his game-day responsibility and he continued to capitalize on situations. He hit a really strong groove over the course of October and November, and I’m proud of him for buying into the culture.”
Ultimately, though, UB’s season ended, and the Bulls closed the regular season by losing six of their final eight games -- all MAC contests.
Ball State’s Malcolm Lee intercepted Myers on third and 8 from the Ball State 44-yard-line less than five minutes into the game. The Cardinals used nine plays to reach the UB 2. After Carson Steele was stopped just short of the goal line on third-and-goal, Cardinals quarterback Drew Plitt (19 for 31 passing, 176 yards, one touchdown) gave Ball State a 7-0 lead with 4:44 left in the first on a 1-yard run.
UB’s ensuing drive ended when Hassan Littles blocked a punt by Jackson Baltar and Brandon Berger recovered the ball at the UB 6. Three plays later, Plitt's 7-yard pass to Jayshon Jackson opened the Cardinals' lead to 14-0 with 2:22 left in the first.
The Bulls appeared to cut Ball State’s lead on Myers’ 17-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, but a holding penalty against UB receiver Dominic Johnson pushed the Bulls back to the Cardinals' 21. After Myers’ third-down pass from the 20 was broken up by Ball State’s Jaylin Thomas, Alex McNulty’s 38-yard field goal put the Bulls on the board a little more than three minutes into the second quarter, and UB trailed 14-3.
Jacob Lewis’ 35-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in the half opened the Cardinals’ lead to 17-3, and Lewis kicked a 48-yard field goal with 4:12 left in the third.
The Bulls strung together a late drive in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, moving 83 yards on 14 plays, but Cosby's interception at the Cardinals' 2 -- Cosby caught the ball as Myers' pass caromed off an intended receiver -- ended the drive.
“I thought our guys fought all the way through the end,” Linguist said. “It was an unfortunate bounce. We had a plan in place to get the touchdown and to get the onside kick prepared, we had all the timeouts in our pockets and looked for a quick strike and a quick score, to see if we can get it back to a one-possession game. But we never got the touchdown, and the guy made a good play that resulted in the turnover.”