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Buffalo Bulls at Minnesota Golden Gophers: Five Things Learned

Last night’s loss may look bad on paper, but it’s a glimmer of hope for Buffalo.

NCAA Football: Buffalo at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo fell to the Minnesota Golden Gophers 17-7, but not all is lost. The Buffalo Bulls showed a lot of maturity and awareness. Perhaps it is time to consider Buffalo as a MAC East contender.

Buffalo’s defense is far better than previous years.

Last night, the Buffalo defense managed to stuff the Minnesota offense to 169 rushing yards. Compare that to last year’s average of 253 yards and you can see some improvement. No less, this is against a Fleck-coached Big Ten school. Statistically it may not sound all that exciting, but the Bulls defense consistently prevented big plays. Buffalo forced Minnesota to grind down the field and created tough situations. Minnesota only had three big plays: two passes from Conor Rhoda to Tyler Johnson for 61 yards (and a touchdown) and 22 yards, and a Demry Croft pass to Eric Carter for 23 yards. I was very impressed with the poise of the defense maintaining a level head and preventing big plays.

Buffalo’s rushing attack left a lot to be desired.

The Bulls lined up against a talented Minnesota defensive line that simply stopped Buffalo’s rushing attempts. For the Bulls to be successful later in the season, they have to do better than 51 rushing yards. Even if the focus was setting up passing lanes like last night, defenses do not fear such small yardage. Tyree Jackson and Emmanuel Reed each tied for longest run of the night for the Bulls, at seven yards each.

Tyree Jackson is going to pick apart defenses.

I was skeptical going into this game about how well Buffalo can pass against a Minnesota defense. Tyree Jackson proved that they can hold their own. Jackson targeted Anthony Johnson all night for 140 yards. The duo accounted half of the completions 66% of the yardage. Jackson looked just as accurate throwing on the run as he did in the pocket. Most of the incompletions actually came from well-defended passes. Jackson’s 211 passing yards show his readiness for MAC play.

Buffalo could be a serious contender for a MAC Championship.

I know that is an awfully bold claim coming from a week one loss, but hear me out. Final stats do not do justice to how well Buffalo played. They were consistent on offense and defense against a good Big Ten team, which is a tall order. The Bulls never gave up or got discouraged. Buffalo was always within reach of victory until the end. If they can continue, it forces opponents to commit errors and turnovers. Against MAC competition where anything goes, I can see Buffalo making a serious run at the division or conference championship.

Kickers are people too.

Last night, Adam Mitcheson missed a field goal and had the second one blocked. To be fair, the blocked kick looked too low to make it through anyway. Missing a field goal is leaving three hard-earned points on the table. I know it’s a hard job and a team effort, but a 33- and 40-yard field goal should be well within any college kicker’s range. By contrast, punter Kyle DeWeen averaged almost 44 yards per punt, which gave Buffalo a lot more breathing room. None were inside the 20 yard line, but he was important in the battle of field position.