AMHERST, N.Y. — Ohio knew its strengths and weaknesses heading into Saturday’s game against Buffalo, but the Bobcats could not capitalize on the former or limit the latter in a disheartening one-point loss to the Bulls.
Already hampered by injuries, Ohio’s defense could not adjust to additional personnel losses and Buffalo’s Bobcat-like offense.
The Bulls (2-4, 1-1 Mid-American Conference) rushed the ball up the middle and used the bubble-screen pass to gain yardage en route to the 38-37 win.
The Bobcats (4-2, 1-1 MAC) entered the game without three defensive starters and lost two more along the way. By the end of the game, Tremayne Scott was the only first-string lineman healthy enough to play, and half of the starting secondary was out of commission.
“That’s almost half of our defensive starting unit,” coach Frank Solich said. “That gets into your depth pretty quickly. I feel good about the effort of the guys who normally wouldn’t be out there as much as they were.”
Buffalo’s playmakers knew Ohio was coming to town shorthanded and exploited the injury-created holes. Running back Branden Oliver scored three times and racked up a career-high 179 yards on 34 carries. His final touchdown was a 1-yard run on fourth and goal with less than six minutes left in the game to give Buffalo a 38-34 lead.
With starting nose guard Neal Huynh sidelined with a leg injury, Oliver focused his efforts up the middle and gained extra real estate after contact. And he did not mind saying how he felt about Huynh’s injury.
“We came in trying to expose that,” Oliver said. “I was happy when I heard that, too. That was one of the big points of our attack, the inside, because he was gone.”
But the plan was not a surprise attack. Defensive end Curtis Meyers, who missed most of the game because of illness, predicted the Bulls would play “smashmouth football,” and safety Gerald Moore said the team had prepared to face Oliver.
“It was nothing we hadn’t seen before on film. It was just being shorthanded on the defensive line that really hurt us,” Moore said. “Missed tackles and missed plays. It’s unexplainable.”
The rushing game’s success cleared space for redshirt senior quarterback Chazz Anderson and his receiving corps. Anderson connected at least four times with five receivers and finished the day with 343 yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-39 passing
The Bulls built drives with short completions and yards after the catch. Their longest play — and drive — of the season came on a 90-yard touchdown catch-and-run by receiver Ed Young. That answered Ohio’s own one-play drive in which LaVon Brazill ran 67 yards for a score.
“They had some really key plays like the swing pass that went all the way for them,” Solich said. “We’ve seen maybe 30 of those this season and just played that one poorly.”
Ohio has had success when winning the turnover battle. Buffalo did not cough up the football, marking the first time the Bobcats have not intercepted a pass this season.
The game’s only turnover came when quarterback Tyler Tettleton threw a costly red-zone interception late in the third quarter. Buffalo defensive back Cortney Lester picked off a pass intended for Brazill in the end zone. It was Tettleton’s first interception in 188 passing attempts, stretching back to the first drive of the season against New Mexico State.
“I just thought LaVon versus anyone, he’s going to win it the majority of the time,” Tettleton said. “I was just giving him a chance and didn’t see the safety, and he made a good play on it.”
The officiating team and Solich made a trio of calls late in the game that might have affected the outcome.
With Buffalo trailing by three and facing a long third down, nose guard Corey Hasting chased Anderson out of bounds and brought him to the ground by grabbing the back of his jersey. The nearest official called a personal foul against Hasting for making a horse-collar tackle.
Buffalo was awarded an automatic first down and went on to score the go-ahead touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, Ohio kicked a field goal on fourth and goal from the 16-yard line despite trailing by four points.
“It wasn’t an easy call, but we were pushed into a corner. The percentages of converting that are so slim,” Solich said. “We knew they would look for a fake field goal, so you kick it and hope for a stop.”
On Ohio’s final drive, a pass intended for Brazill fell incomplete as Buffalo safety Isaac Baugh appeared to make contact before the ball arrived. No penalty was called for pass interference.
When asked about the two officiating decisions, Solich simply shook his head.