Eastern Michigan Bulldozed in MAC Opener
EMU disappointed at home after it lost 50-31 to Buffalo on a Saturday MACtion nooner.
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Final: Buffalo 50, Eastern Michigan 31
What an ugly game.
Not because Eastern Michigan dared to wear its revamped all-gray uniform set against Buffalo on the home gray turf (though, that didn’t help).
Eastern Michigan, which just beat Arizona State last week, had no formidable answer for the Bulls that were incredibly hungry for their first win of the year.
EMU ran just 50 plays for 327 yards while Buffalo ran 84 plays for 498 yards.
Eastern sees its record drop to 2-2 on the year, and starts league play in the loss column: 0-1 against Mid-American Conference teams.
This was just Buffalo’s first win of the season.
“We got beat. We got beat in every way to a team that came out really hungry and played harder than what we did. We’re not used to that. It’s happened before, but it doesn’t happen often,” EMU head coach Chris Creighton said after Saturday’s 50-31 home loss. “My hat’s off to them because they played harder and we didn’t.
“I thought we did a really good job not carrying over last week and starting over. I think we really liked our preparation and where our mindset was, we knew this was a big game this was. We did everything that we could to make sure that we were ready to play today. I’m not surprised that Buffalo played so hard and played well. We knew that they were a good football team. Records are what people look at. We knew they were going to be a really good team, I’m just so disappointed that we weren’t able to play better today.”
Buffalo’s blue-hot start
After holding its first three opponents to scoreless first quarters, Buffalo snapped the streak in its first two minutes of the game. Quian Williams, formerly an Eastern Michigan receiver, had a one-handed grab and ran past EMU’s defense for 59 yards and eventually forced out of bounds at the two yard line. Buffalo’s center snapped the ball above his quarterback Cole Snyder’s head, but the QB was able to control the ball and run it in for a score.
On the ensuing kick, Jaylon Jackson fielded Buffalo’s kickoff on the move and ran it all the way for an 89-yard score.
After two quick scores in two minutes, Buffalo’s offense grinded out its next drive for 15 plays and held the ball for 7:22 to finish the drive with a score. On the drive, Buffalo’s offense converted on third down three times and twice on fourth.
Buffalo got the touchdown, but it didn’t get the extra point. West Bloomfield native and Cincinnati transfer Sterling Miles got a hand on Buffalo’s PAT kick.
Smith’s first career start
Nine and a half minutes into the game down 13-7, EMU’s offense finally got to see the field with its new starting quarterback.
Taylor Powell, still recovering from the hits he took last week at Arizona State, did not dress for the Buffalo game. In his place, Austin Smith earned his first career start in his fourth career game played.
Smith, whose number changed from #19 to #4, his old high school number, started his day by helping the Eagles string together an 8-play, 75-yard drive that ended with him throwing his second-career touchdown pass to Tanner Knue.
With the PAT make, EMU took its first lead of the game, but that’d be short-lived.
To follow up its 15-play drive, Buffalo ran a 12-play touchdown drive and converted on another fourth down along the way. It was Buffalo’s third fourth-down conversion of the game, matching its three-game season total (3 for 8) in just one half.
After Jesus Gomez made his fourth-career field goal from 35 yards out for EMU to trail 20-17, the UB offense marched for another long, scoring drive. This time it was 11 plays for 75 yards capped by Mike Washington’s second rush TD of the day.
Down 27-17, Buffalo avoided kicking the ball to Jackson by instead kicking to Samson Evans, who was on the other side of the field as Jackson. Evans brought the ball out across midfield, but a penalty brought the ball way back. Jackson, nowhere near the play, made a fair catch signal as Evans received the kick at the 17-yard line, so the ball had to be brought back to that spot.
Knue, however, caught Smith’s first pass and took the ball all the way from the EMU 17-yard line to Buffalo’s 16. After a series of short-yard pays, Smith scored his first career rushing score as he went under center from third-and-goal at the 1-yard line to make it a three-point game just 26 seconds until halftime.
That was just long enough for Buffalo to get one more score on the board before halftime. Williams returned EMU’s kickoff for 76 yards to get inside the red zone. Kempton Shine broke up a pass that went in Williams’ direction in the end zone, and limited Buffalo to a 41-yard field goal and extended UB’s lead to 30-24 at the break.
Not only did EMU allow points in the first quarter for the first time, EMU went without holding Buffalo to a scoreless drive in the first half.
“We’ve got to be able to stop the run first when they were running it and throwing it. Often when they were running it, they were getting some good chunks. Not explosives, but keeping drives going and changing field position. They scored the first nine possessions so we’ve got to figure out ways to get people off-schedule and to get people to punt.”
Eastern Michigan re-took the lead five minutes into the second half (31-30) after a 10-play, 69 yard drive that ended with two running backs touching the ball in the end. Evans, who received the snap, dropped the snap, picked the ball up to try and run it in himself. Evans dropped the ball right before he crossed the goal line, and Darius Boone was in the right place at the right time to pick up the ball in the end zone for his second score of the year.
And again, EMU’s lead would be very short-lived. By short lived, I mean: 3 plays, 1:23 off the clock, thanks to a 65-yard catch-and-run by UB receiver Jamari Gassett. Buffalo’s lead extended to 40-31 lat in the third quarter after an 81-yard drive that started on its own 1-yard line and ended with it second field goal of the day.
Eastern’s risky 4th down calls
Down by nine late in the third quarter, Creighton decided to go for it.
“End of the third quarter, I had to make the decision offensively to start getting out of our gameplan to be able to give ourselves a chance to win,” Creighton said.
It was fourth down, six yards to go, and EMU had the ball on its own 33-yard line. To avoid its second-straight three-and-out series, Chris Creighton elected to pass the ball. Smith’s pass to Lassiter went incomplete, and broken up by UB defensive back Isaiah King.
Buffalo took over with great field position, but the defense did its part, highlighted by Shine’s second pass breakup in the end zone of the game, and limited Buffalo’s damage to just a field goal.
But that also meant Buffalo’s lead extended to 12 points.
On its very next drive, EMU found itself in a 4th & 2 situation on its own 39-yard line. Smith, who took the ball on the speed option, was hit just short of the sticks instead of pitching the ball to Evans and failed to convert for a second time with 10:26 left in the game.
Seven plays later, Buffalo scored its sixth touchdown of the day — its ninth straight drive with a score.
EMU went for, and failed to convert, on fourth down a third time on the drive after, but EMU also had no choice by this point: Buffalo had the 50-31 lead with seven minutes left in the game.
Eastern started the game with four straight scores, but finished its final five drives by punt, three straight turnovers on downs, and an interception.
“We didn’t do a very well offensively there at the end when we got outside of our original plan. Just all-around, it wasn’t good enough,” Creighton said.
Five, final stats
QB Austin Smith: In his first start, Smith was 12/19 passing for 190 yards, 1 TD and had 1 interception. The interception came very, very late in the game after his pass hit Zach Westmoreland, but the ball bounced off the receiver and into the hand of UB linebacker James Patterson. Smith also rushed the ball 12 times for 74 total yards, and scored once.
RB Samson Evans: The RB who had 258 rush yards last week had just 52 yards on 15 handoffs this week.
Buffalo’s offense: The Bulls were 8/8 in red zone trips, and 4/4 on fourth down conversions.
KR Jaylon Jackson: The new running back had two great kick returns, including an 89-yard score. He finished the day with just two returns for 123 yards. UB avoided kicking the ball to him after his second big return.
UB WR Quian Williams: The Eagle-turned-Bull was the most-targeted receiver of the game. He had six catches on nine targets and scored once.