Regular season football was back in Buffalo Thursday night as the University at Buffalo Bulls kicked-off the 2019 season against FCS opponent Robert Morris. There was a buzz in UB Stadium, with the lower east side of the stadium packed with students, and a freshman QB from Western New York at the helm for the Bulls.
The pregame excitement carried into the first drive of the game, after RMU took a touch-back on the kickoff, the Bulls defense took the field and looked stout, forcing a three and out. On the next play, Robert Morris looked to punt, but the punt was blocked (unintentionally) when the RMU punter drove a low line drive into the head of Theo Anderson.
After taking over at the RMU 25 yard line it took just three plays for the Bulls to punch it in to the end zone. Matt Myers kept the ball on a read option from the one yard line, and waltzed into the end zone after being setup by 5 and 19 yard runs by Jaret Patterson.
The Colonials second drive of the game was nearly as uneventful as their first with another 3 and out. Tyrone Hill did nearly intercept RMU QB George Martin on a second down pass that hit the hands of Hill and fell incomplete. The punt, however, was once again eventful for Theo Anderson’s head, as he was blocking downfield the ball took an odd bounce, hitting Anderson in the head before Robert Morris recovered for their biggest gain of the night at the time.
Despite the second chance, Robert Morris was not able to capitalize and once again went three and out. This time the punt didn’t hit Theo Anderson’s head and Tito Overton made a fair catch at the UB 18 yard line.
On the Bulls’ second drive of the night they marched 82 yards down the field for a touchdown on 10 plays without throwing a pass. The drive was capped by a Jaret Patterson 4 yard run outside the right tackle.
The reluctance to pass foreshadowed the play-calling to follow throughout the night, and potentially into the season, but what Myers didn’t get the chance to show with his arm he made up for with his legs, rushing for 33 yards on the drive. Dominic Johnson made his debut at wide receiver on this drive. Johnson could have some utility out wide this season, if not as a pass catcher, as an outside run blocker with a 6’5” 225 lbs frame.
The Colonials took back over on offense after the Bulls score, and were finally able to gain some traction after opening their offense up a bit, and looking to throw more. The drive was book-ended by big plays for the Colonials with George Martin opening up with a 34 yard completion to DeLano Madison and Alijah Jackson breaking a 28 yard run ending in paydirt to get the Colonials back within 7.
After getting the ball back, coach Lance Leipold finally dialed up a passing play on first down, with Matt Myers just overshooting JUCO transfer Daniel Lee on a decent throw 35 yards downfield.
On his second throw Myers made a questionable read throwing to Ron Cook in traffic with an open receiver near the sideline, Myers is likely to improve in this regard as he gains experience against D1 competition.
On this drive Jaret Patterson had a highlight run of 29 yards breaking several tackles on the play.
On the very next play Myers made his first career completion in a UB uniform, hitting a wide open Zac Lefebvre for a 40 yard TD after a blown coverage by RMU to give Buffalo a 21-7 lead.
To open the second quarter Robert Morris was once again able to lead a sustained scoring drive ending in a 28 yard field goal by kicker Nick Bisceglia. The back breaker on this drive came when the Bulls had stopped Robert Morris on third down, leaving the Colonials with 4th and 2, however an illegal formation penalty gave Robert Morris a shot on 3rd and 19. Alijah Jackson then took an inside handoff for 26 yards picking up a first down and positioning RMU just outside of the 20.
After the RMU field goal, the Bulls took over at their own 25 with 4:21 on the clock in the half. Led by Kevin Marks on the ground, a 27 yard catch by true freshman Marlyn Johnson, and 3 key offside penalties against Robert Morris, UB marched down the field and the Myers-Lefebvre connection resulted in a touchdown for the second time in the game. With just 27 seconds remaining on the clock Robert Morris kneeled it out, and the Bulls headed to the locker room at halftime up 28-10.
Coming out for the second half the Bulls continued to stick to the ground game, rushing three times for eight yards before being forced into their first punt of the game. Evan Finnegan had a solid 41 yard punt that was fair caught at the RMU 7.
Robert Morris’ drive started with an offside penalty on UB, but the following two plays were rushes that totaled just 4 yards. On 3rd and 1, Malcolm Koonce sacked QB George Martin, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Taylor Riggins at the RMU 12.
After being handed promising field position the UB offense was not able to capitalize with a touchdown after an offensive pass interference killed momentum, however, Alex McNulty was able to convert on a 40 yard FG attempt. UB fans should be encouraged by the performance by the kickers in this game, which has been an issue in recent years.
On the next Colonial drive, they managed to pick up one first down, advancing the ball 24 yards before being forced to punt once again.
The final scoring drive of the game took place midway through the 3rd quarter as Kevin Marks gained 34 yards on the ground on the way down the field, and the Bulls were helped by two 15 yard penalties on Robert Morris. Freshman Ron Cook Jr. got the honors of punching the ball into the end zone from three yards out.
The 4th quarter was rather uneventful with the second unit coming in, and both teams running clock and exchanging punts.
The final score was 38-10 UB, in what was a rather ho-hum FCS game, but Bulls fans know that these wins shouldn’t be taken for granted. Buffalo starts the season 1-0 and will face a tough Penn State squad, ranked #15 in the country, next Saturday on the road at 7:30PM.