UB's hopes come to an end
By Budd Bailey
The University at Buffalo football team entered Tuesday night’s game against Ohio like a poker player who draws three cards in an attempt to complete a straight.
Despite an overall record of 3-6, the Bulls still had a path toward a “successful” season. Three straight wins would give UB the MAC East championship and a ticket to the conference title game as well as a bowl bid.
If that all seems unlikely, well, you can cue up the movie clip where the hero goes, “You mean there’s a chance?”
Well, there was. And then there wasn’t.
UB’s 20-10 loss to Ohio ended the “competitive” part of the Bulls’ season. This will be remembered as a step backwards after 2022’s 7-6 record that included a bowl win, no matter what happens from here.
"It's disappointing that we're not going to be able to continue to play more extended games," UB coach Maurice Linguist said. "I think about the older guys that have put in a lot of years of work in our program, and a lot of guys who have built Buffalo into a really good football program before I was here. It's disappointing that we won't be able to extend our time together."
In an election night matchup, UB came out with a offensive gameplan that was conservative enough to be plotted by the Freedom Caucus in Congress. The Bulls mostly handed the ball off for rushes and didn’t take many chances. It didn’t produce thrills, but Buffalo didn’t turn the ball over to keep the game under control.
It takes a good defense to make that work, and UB had that in the first 30 minutes. The Bobcats only had two first downs in the entire half.
Meanwhile, Buffalo did have one big play in the half that was enough to help give it the lead. Cole Snyder hit Boobie Curry for a 48-yard run-and-catch play that flipped the field. Alex McNulty’s 41-yard field goal was good in the middle of the second quarter for a 3-0 lead, and Buffalo’s margin held up until the half.
Ohio must have figured out something at halftime, because the Bobcats were much sharper right from the start at the second half. They moved the ball on offense, and they limited the Bulls to only two first downs in the final 30 minutes.
"That's a team that won our division last year, with an experienced coaching staff," Linguist said.
Ohio went 63 yards in 13 plays, only to stall short of the goal line. A field goal tied the game at 3-3. And the Bobcats took advantage of a short field after a botched kickoff return to move in for the go-ahead score; Siah Bangura’s two-yard run on fourth down did the honors.
"The story of the game was field position," Linguist said. "We had the one kickoff return where we didn't field the ball and started the drive on the 5-yard line. We went three and out, and they got the ball back. ... That turned into points."
Yet the Bulls only needed one play to start an answer to falling behind for the first time. Cole Snyder’s short pass to D.J. Harding turned into a 52-yard gain. Quarterback CJ Ogbanna scored from two yards out, and the kick left it tied at 10-10 with 13:30 left.
But Ohio was able to answer with another drive, going 66 yards in nine plays to set up another field goal by Gianni Spetic. And then a UB fumble in its own territory gave the Bobcats a short field, and Ohio slowly moved in for the clinching score. Bangura ran it in from the 1 with a little bit less than two minutes to go, and his team was set to improve to 7-3/4-2.
"That is a tough pill to swallow, not getting the results that we want to," quarterback Cole Snyder said. "Now it's just playing football for the love of the game."
Only pride will be on the line the rest of the way for the Bulls (3-7, 3-3). They will play at Miami on Nov. 15, and finish the season with a home game against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 21.
"When time is an issue for some of the older guys, I think (the goal) is to continue to teach and to enjoy every second you have with them," Linguist said. "We have a number of guys that are going to be returning to this team. You look at the offensive line, and there are four or five starters coming back. ... We have a lot of youth that will be returning, and we have to get better."
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