Buffalo kept its bowl hopes alive at UB Stadium under the lights on Tuesday night. Lance Leipold's Bulls left no doubt in the victory, putting on an all-around dominant offensive performance en route to a 38-28 victory over the Bowling Green Falcons.
Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson threw for a career-high 406 yards on his 20th birthday and his second game back from a knee injury. The 6-foot-7 sophomore quarterback tossed three touchdowns and wasn't afraid to test his range against the Falcons' struggling pass defense in the victory.
But the passing wasn't the only strength of the Bulls' offense during the weeknight MACtion showdown in New York.
Buffalo's freshman running back Theo Anderson, who received plenty of playing time after several Emmanuel Reed fumbles, earned a career-high 133 yards on the ground, completely shattering his previous career-best of 57. Anderson rushed for an 8-yard touchdown in the late fourth quarter — his second score of his career — to ice the game for the Bulls.
In the early going, Buffalo was scoring left-and-right through the air. The Bulls' first touchdown came as a result of a Josh Cleveland fumble on the 6-yard line. Buffalo took advantage of the short field and running back Emmanuel Reed plunged it into the end zone from 5 yards out.
After Bowling Green responded with a long drive, which ended in a 29-yard corner route touchdown from Jarret Doege to Quintin Morris, Buffalo reignited the offense under its sophomore quarterback.
A 51-yard bomb down the right sideline to a waiting Kamathi Holsey pushed Buffalo well past midfield. Two plays later, Jackson's arm would deliver its first touchdown of the day to wide receiver Anthony Johnson.
Johnson, who became the fourth Buffalo player to gain 1,000 receiving yards in a season on Tuesday night, would extend Buffalo's lead to 21-7 on the ensuing drive. Johnson hauled in a 69-yard pass on a streak pattern from Jackson, and the QB-WR combination scored its second touchdown on just its third connection of the night.
Johnson finished the day with eight catches, 160 yards, and two touchdowns. For the fourth time this season, the junior receiver from Rock Hill, SC earned 140 receiving yards in a game.
Buffalo's offense would be shut down for the rest of the first half, but not entirely as a result of Bowling Green stopping the Bulls on third downs. The Bulls would fumble away two out of three drives to close the half, including a fumble by Reed on the 2-yard line with 8:22 left in the second quarter. Bowling Green recovered both turnovers.
After obtaining the first fumble as a gift from Buffalo, the Falcons would regift the ball back to the Bulls like a bad White Elephant exchange item. Bowling Green fumbled on the very next play, unable to cut the deficit to seven at the moment.
But, after forcing a fumble on the 2-yard line, Bowling Green managed to drive 98 yards down the field, primarily on runs by Andrew Clair and passes from Doege to Scott Miller. Clair rushed for 85 yards on 18 carries, and he would score his first touchdown of the day from the goal line to make it 21-14 entering halftime.
The start of the second half was eventful for the offenses. After K.J. Osborn returned the kick for the Bulls, he would line up at receiver and be the focal point of the offense for the possession. Osborn caught a 13-yard catch and then finished the drive with a 37-yard touchdown reception down the left sideline.
Down 28-14, Bowling Green's offense would respond. Doege threw plenty of darts on the drive and his acrobatic receiver Teo Redding would jump over a Buffalo cornerback for a strong, two-handed touchdown catch in the end zone. The 9-yard scoring play would bring the Falcons back within seven.
The Bulls' offense would settle for Adam Mitcheson field goals on its next two drives. Buffalo's first field goal sailed wide right, but Mitcheson corrected his error by sinking the next attempt from the right hash to rewrite the score as a double-digit lead for the blue and white.
Thanks to a 39-yard pass to Datrin Guyton, Doege would lead the charge into Buffalo territory once again. The Falcon quarterback finished this possession with a 2-yard pass in the back left portion of the end zone to Scott Miller, and the Falcons trailed by just three. It was a great night for Miller, whose 108 receiving yards rank as his second best output of 2017.
But Bowling Green's common theme of the night continued. The defense could not support the offense and create a stop, other than forcing fumbles. Buffalo achieved 582 yards of total offense, particularly excelling with over 400 yards through the air.
A good kick return by Osborn and several consistent runs by Anderson drove the Bulls right past the Falcons' defense and Anderson finished off Bowling Green by scoring a touchdown thanks to an incredible block by the right guard.
Buffalo (4-6) utilized home field advantage on Tuesday night and defeated Bowling Green (2-8) by 10 points.
Despite the loss for Bowling Green, there were several bright spots, including the passing game. Doege, who has been Bowling Green's most efficient quarterback all season long, completing over 65% of his passes and threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns. Most importantly, he refrained from error, not forcing bad throws or turning the ball over. He does need to add a hint of mobility to his game, but if Doege continues to play at this level, Bowling Green may finally develop a quarterback to fill the void left by Matt Johnson's graduation two seasons ago.
For Buffalo, it was an incredible day for the "Big 3" of Jackson-Anderson-Johnson. The three all performed at a high level, and their offensive production allowed Buffalo to answer Bowling Green's decent offensive attack. The three put together an offense that would not trail on the scoreboard the entire night, allowing Buffalo to collect that sought-after fourth win to keep bowl eligibility alive.
The defense forced and recovered three fumbles, constantly forcing turnovers as well. After a four-game skid, both of Buffalo's units needed to step up to deliver the victory, and Leipold should be proud of how his team handled the Falcons on national television in front of the home fans.
Buffalo will have to travel to Ball State — winless in conference play — to keep its bowl hopes alive. Although the Bulls will enter this game as heavy favorites, especially after the re-emergence of Tyree Jackson, Buffalo will have a difficult matchup looming against Ohio to close the 2017 season.
For Bowling Green, postseason play is out of the question for the second-straight season. The Falcons have already matched their loss total from 2016 and it doesn't get much easier for Mike Jinks' team. Bowling Green will have to battle for the I-75 Trophy against the MAC favorites before traveling to a battle-tested Eastern Michigan team to finish a disappointing year. But the Falcons built hope at the end of 2016, and maybe they can rally under Doege, Clair, and the rest of the young talent on offense. But the defense definitely needs to step up for the Falcons to keep their loss total under 10 this season.