BUFFALO, N.Y. — It took just six defense plays for Ohio to dig itself a hole too deep.
After an offensive three and out, the Bobcats defense allowed a 31-yard touchdown to Anthony Johnson. Nine minutes later, Johnson caught a 54-yard touchdown pass. Both drives took three plays — they were the Bulls first six offensive plays.
Ohio's defense allowed 17 points in the first quarter, which paired with a Buffalo defensive touchdown, was too much to overcome as the Bobcats fell 31-24 at UB Stadium on Friday.
“Honestly, I couldn’t tell you," safety Kylan Nelson said of what went wrong in the first quarter. "If it came down to technique errors, maybe, I thought our communication was fine."
The Bobcats fell down 24-7 at the end of the first quarter, mostly due to Johnson's playmaking ability and quarterback Tyree Jackson's strong arm.
Jackson finished the quarter 8-of-11 with 168 yards and two touchdowns, while Johnson finished with three catches for 120 yards and two scores. Buffalo didn't run the ball the entire first quarter.
"They’ve got a quarterback that’s a good drop-back quarterback, they’ve got one of the best receivers in the conference, they were good at utilizing those two,” coach Frank Solich said.
Perhaps a reason for the ariel attack was the wind, which blew at over 20 MPH throughout the game. The Bulls had the wind at their back for the first quarter, and they took advantage.
Of the seven drives the Bulls had with the wind at their backs, they scored four touchdowns, a field goal, punted just once and kneeled down to end the game.
Five of Johnson's six catches came with the wind, too, as did 144 of his 155 total yards.
"I think they helped us out, throwing into the wind they overthrew him a couple times," Nelson said of how the wind affected the game. "If there wasn’t a wind factor, I’m pretty sure he would’ve gone ahead and grabbed some of those. He’s just a sure-handed receiver.”
And each time Ohio had a chance to stop Buffalo and regain momentum, the Bulls snatched it away with a defensive stop or a long touchdown pass in the first quarter that the Bobcats couldn't get out of.
“We just came out and it seemed like we had moments where we were like, ‘OK, let’s get it going’ and then it kind of died," Nelson said. "Turnovers killed us early, they got their second score on a fumble recovery for a touchdown. That just puts a lot of stress on the defense, we get the ball on their side of the field, it’s just hard to keep guys out of the end zone."
The Bobcats' (8-4, 6-2 MAC) defense rallied to only allow one more touchdown the rest of the way — a two-play, six-yard drive — but the quick and early scores hurt enough to force the offense to play catch-up.
As the offense slowly made its comeback, the defense held strong to only allow 135 yards in the second half compared to the 165 yards it allowed in the first quarter.
But the early lapses were enough to put Ohio in a deep enough hole to end up one score short.
"Trying to sustain that through the fourth quarter with the wind against you was not an easy task," Solich said. "But our guys almost did it.”