Despite the result on the scoreboard, there was plenty of action in this game. Just not scoring.
Last week, Buffalo set a FBS record by scoring 68 points in a loss. But against Northern Illinois, Lance Leipold's team only reached the end zone once on its home turf and decreased its scoring output by 55 points from the previous week.
After six consecutive punting drives to open the contest, Bulls struck first with a 23-yard field goal set up by several Drew Anderson-to-Anthony Johnson strikes. But the lead wouldn't last too long for the Bulls.
Northern Illinois slowly, but steadily made its way down the gridiron. Led by first-time starter Marcus Childers at quarterback, the Huskies utilized a vast array of targets in order to score its first touchdown of the afternoon. Wide receivers Christian Blake and D.J. Brown excelled in gaining positive yardage, and the freshman quarterback ran it in from 10 yards out to lead 7-3.
Following a Buffalo punt, Childers led his team down the field in just five plays. He finished 4-of-4 with 54 passing yards on the possession, finishing with a 34-yard strike to the tight end Shane Wimann.
At the beginning of the second quarter, it looked like Buffalo was in for another shootout. The Bulls added to the scoreboard on an 81-yard drive led by Anderson, who passed for a MAC record 597 yards and seven touchdowns last Saturday. The drive functioned solely on the quarterback's arm and he demonstrated perfection with a 4-of-4, 91-yard passing drive. He connected with Emmanuel Reed for two passes on the drive. Anderson's final attempt, while under duress, ended in finding a wide open Emmanuel Reed on a heave in the back corner of the end zone. Buffalo trailed 14-10.
NIU's ensuing possession ended in a fumble, one of two turnovers on the day for Rod Carey's squad. Buffalo would then experience a drive that ended in three points but ended in an unfortunate result.
After Drew Anderson's arm guided the black and blue to first down after first down on an 81-yard drive, Anderson experienced too much pressure in the red zone. The offensive line had not allowed a sack all game, but Anderson was pressured by the nation's leading sack master, Sutton Smith. After taking a hard blow, Anderson exited the game and was exchanged for freshman quarterback Kyle Vantrease. Anderson threw for 191 yards on 13-of-18 accuracy, finishing with one touchdown.
Vantrease attempted a fade route on 3rd-and-goal to start his collegiate career, but overthrew his target. Buffalo would nail the chip shot field goal and trail the Huskies by just one point.
For those who want a scoring rundown, the recap can end here, but the second half was actually full of chaos despite the lack of points.
On its second possession of the half, Northern Illinois drove right down the field after another stellar passing performance by Childers. After completing a 27-yard throw to senior receiver Chad Beebe to get within the 10-yard line, Childers decided to take it himself on 1st-and-goal. But he fumbled.
Buffalo pounced on the ball and would earn one of many opportunities to take the lead, just down by one point. After a punt, NIU would earn one of many opportunities to extend the lead.
Childers completed two consecutive throws to D.J. Brown for a total of 37 yards to cross midfield and enter Bulls' territory. But after struggling to gain yards on three plays, Carey sent out the field goal unit to attempt a 43-yarder. The kicking woes continued for senior Christian Hagan, who entered the game 4-of-8 on the season.
After a Buffalo punt, the Huskies managed to enter Bulls' territory once again. But Childers' offense was stopped, forcing a 4th-and-5 from the Buffalo 35. Given the struggles of Hagan and the Buffalo offense, the logical option was to punt and pin the opponent deep. And with Matt Ference's 33-yard punt, the Huskies did just that.
In a surprising turn of events, Buffalo actually managed to jump-start the offense with its back against the wall. On second down, an Emmanuel Reed run nearly resulted in a safety. But on the following 3rd-and-11 from the 1-yard line, Vantrease connected with Anthony Johnson on a bomb down the right sideline for a 47-yard gain. Then, Vantrease replicated the play by hitting wide receiver Antonio Dunn on the sideline for a 43-yard gain to get to NIU's 11-yard line.
But the Huskies' defense then stood relentless. Bobby Jones IV sacked Vantrease on third down, forcing a 34-yard field goal for the Bulls' Adam Mitcheson. With 12:42 left in the contest, Mitcheson's field goal was no good. Still the same ol' score.
Northern Illinois then briefly ventured into Buffalo territory before another Matt Ference punt. The freshman, Vantrease, would have to drive his offense into scoring position once again. Starting at his own 8-yard line, Vantrease led the unit to almost midfield. But the freshman's first-career interception occurred at an inopportune time, and Jawuan Johnson picked him off for decent field position for Northern Illinois.
Capitalizing on the favorable field position, the Huskies drove right down to the Buffalo 27-yard line. On 4th-and-1, rather than attempt to extend the drive, Carey elected to go for the points. But Hagan fell to 4-of-10 on the season with a missed 43-yard field goal attempt.
Somehow, Vantrease was given one final shot at knocking off the 3-2 Huskies. But a Sutton Smith sack and forced fumble sent the possession into flames. Buffalo recovered and Vantrease connected with Anthony Johnson on 2nd-and-31, but the Bulls could not obtain the sought-after first down. In a tough decision, they punted.
Running back Tommy Mister and Childers would use their power running abilities to pound the ball up the middle to end the game. Zero points were scored in the second half, but Northern Illinois' defense, with some special teams luck, escaped with the victory.
In the past three weeks, the Huskies have allowed just three second half points (one field goal to San Diego State). The unit has consistently stepped up in the clutch, but the offense needs to make the most of its opportunities.
Childers excelled in his first start with 224 passing yards and a team-high 79 rushing yards with no interceptions and two total touchdowns. Comparatively, Buffalo's third-string quarterback Vantrease threw for 153 yards on 8-of-16 passing. The teams combined for just 27 points but the 824 combined offensive yards shows that these teams just couldn't execute and earn points when entering field goal range.
Northern Illinois (4-2) sits atop of the MAC West and will face Bowling Green on the road next Saturday. Buffalo (3-4), after losing to Western Michigan and Northern Illinois by a total of four points, travels to Oxford to battle a struggling Miami (OH) program.