A 1-4 start is not what the reigning Mid-American Conference champions envisioned when they prepared to start this season.
However, after a 20-13 loss to Central Michigan at home on Saturday, that’s exactly what the UB Bulls are up against.
Central Michigan left the door open several times for the Bulls but even an improved run game and run defense couldn’t get the job done.
The Bulls were 2-for-3 in red zone chances (both resulted in field goals) and none was more critical than the fourth-and-1 situation on the Chippewas’ 11-yard line with 9:11 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“If it’s less than one [yard] I’m going to go for it,” Bulls head coach Turner Gill said. “That’s just my mentality in most cases.”
Needing a touchdown and an extra point to tie the game, the Bulls gambled and called a sneak up the middle for quarterback Zach Maynard.
“I believe we should get it,” Gill said. “If we don’t get it, then I don’t think we deserve to win the football game.”
They didn’t get it.
Maynard was stuffed at the line of scrimmage and the Bulls wouldn’t take the ball into Chippewa territory again.
The defense was able to contain Central’s Dan LeFevour, relatively speaking. LeFevour passed for 268 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a team-best 98 yards. He torched Akron with six touchdowns last week (four passing and two rushing) so holding him to under 100 yards rushing and only 20 points is a sign of progress for the UB defense.
Another bright spot for the Bulls came from the tailback position. Junior Ike Nduka became the first Bull to rush for 100 yards this season, helping to fill the void left by the injured James Starks.
Nduka gained 172 yards in his first collegiate start including a career-long 48-yard rush in the third quarter to set up a 21-yard field goal.
“I felt confident and prepared,” Nduka said. “Having my teammates and coaching staff believe in me helped me in the game.”
At this point in the season last year, the Bulls were 2-3 with a 1-1 record in the conference. So the slow start, while unsettling, is something they’ve overcome in the past.
Saturday’s homecoming game against Gardner-Webb will only count in the record towards a bowl game, but if the Bulls fall into a 1-5 hole, they may not be able to climb out.