It takes special, one-of-a-kind players to piece together a program’s best season in history.
For Lance Leipold’s Buffalo Bulls squad, it was evident on Tuesday night how critical quarterback Tyree Jackson and wide receiver Anthony Johnson are to the Bulls’ 8-1 start — their best since joining the FBS and best as a program since 1959. Eight wins are tied for the most of any Buffalo team since the Bulls joined the FBS ranks in 1999 (feat was also achieved in 2008 and 2013).
Behind Jackson’s six total touchdowns and Johnson’s 238 yards and three touchdown receptions, Buffalo’s offense drained Miami (OH), 51-42 in a thriller at UB Stadium. The dynamic offensive duo connected with each other eight times, as the 6’7” Jackson threw for a career-high 358 yards in a nationally televised home victory.
Now, the nation knows what this Bulls’ offense is all about.
But Buffalo wasn’t the only team with its offense flowing like ballads from Mozart’s piano. In the highest scoring MAC game of the season, Miami registered a season-high 42 points due to a brilliant performance by senior quarterback Gus Ragland. Despite a loss that pushes his team to the brink of bowl ineligibility, Ragland tallied four touchdowns (three rushing) and established a stellar passing game with 313 yards through the air.
Receiving the ball after the opening kick, Ragland steadily guided his troops down the field, finishing with a 27-yard touchdown scamper to strike first on the scoreboard. Buffalo quickly responded with a beautiful 75-yard deep ball from Jackson to a wide open Johnson to tie things up at 7 apiece.
A good look at Anthony Johnson's longest reception of his prolific college career. Beautiful deep ball by Tyree Jackson.— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) October 31, 2018
7-7 already at Buffalo! pic.twitter.com/fkRuBAsb6S
The two teams traded touchdowns once more in a high-scoring first quarter. RedHawks’ running back Alonzo Smith (63 rushing yards) earned his first of two touchdowns on the night, while Buffalo answered with Jackson’s first of three rushing touchdowns on an impressive third down scramble.
The first major momentum shift swung into Miami’s favor. With the score tied at 14-14, the RedHawks blocked an Evan Finegan punt, recovering the ball inside the Bulls’ red zone. Chuck Martin’s team capitalized with a Ragland score, regaining the lead at 21-14.
With the home fans backing the Bulls in sub-50-degree weather, Buffalo’s offense re-entered the rhythm it established on its initial drives. After forcing a Miami punt and refusing to trail by two scores, a 20-yard Anthony Johnson touchdown re-tied the game in the middle of the second quarter. It was the first of three consecutive touchdowns for Leipold’s squad.
Thanks to a 50-yard missed goal by Miami’s Samuel Sloman, Buffalo launched its ensuing position in favorable field position. With less than a minute before halftime, the driving Bulls hit a hurdle as Jackson threw an interception in the back of the end zone. But a Miami holding penalty by Joshua Allen injected new life into Buffalo’s offense, and Tyree Jackson reversed field on a wild 5-yard run to lead 28-21.
Tyree Jackson doesn't like what he sees on the right side of field, so he reverses to the left and finishes with six! Second rushing score of the day for Tyree. Also has two passing TDs.— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) October 31, 2018
28-21, Buffalo pic.twitter.com/v3eTyQuLFc
Buffalo’s surging offense received the ball at halftime, and the dominance sustained. A 52-yard pass to Johnson set up the Bulls deep in RedHawks’ territory, and Jackson earned his trifecta with a third rushing touchdown of the night.
After three possessions of scoring absence, Ragland and the RedHawks reminded the Bulls of their previous offensive prowess. With wide receiver Jack Sorenson earning 59 of the RedHawks’ 75 yards on the drive, Miami flew downfield and trimmed the deficit to seven on a Smith halfback dive.
The one-possession game was short-lived, though. Buffalo notched its fourth-straight scoring drive with Johnson re-emerging as the dominant player of the night. His 37-yard score on a heave to the left sideline bolstered the Bulls’ offense and his 10-yard score allowed the scoreboard to read 42-28.
The points duel wouldn’t stop there. Ragland found running back Kenny Young wide open down the middle of the field on a 59-yard streak route as 2:29 remained in the third quarter. In order to stop Anthony Johnson and Buffalo’s invincible offense, Martin elected for the surprise element: an onside kick. The RedHawks recovered and stormed down the field, topped with another Ragland rushing touchdown. At 42-42, overtime seemed like a strong possibility in this matchup.
Both teams received opportunities to one-up the other. Instead, sacks stalled both drives, which led to a punt tradeoff. Buffalo prevailed in the punt-off, as Miami was flagged for kick-catch interference for nudging Bulls wide receiver K.J. Osborn during his fair catch.
With a short field, the Bulls turned to freshman running back Jaret Patterson. The speedy back sliced and diced through the opposing defense in a 96-yard performance. His finishing act: a spin move that led to a 4-yard rushing touchdown. Buffalo’s kicker Adam Mitcheson missed the extra point, forcing Buffalo to grasp onto a 6-point lead.
Jaret Patterson knows how to hit the B button, and finishes with his first TD of the night! 98 yards for the freshman and Buffalo leads, 48-42 (missed XPA). pic.twitter.com/8ZDFXuFIPc— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) October 31, 2018
At midfield with a chance to go ahead, Miami’s offense finally stalled. An incompletion to Jack Sorenson on fourth down hampered the RedHawks’ chances of the upset. Jackson and Osborn picked up first downs on the following possession to set up Mitcheson for a 37-yard field goal. This time, the kicker answered and broke the program record for most made field goals in a career (45).
With a 9-point deficit and under four minutes remaining, the RedHawks looked to pull off a series of improbable possessions. Instead, the Bulls pressured Ragland and forced a strip sack, recovered by outside linebacker James Patterson. Buffalo sealed a 51-42 victory at home, improving to 8-1 — the team’s most wins since Khalil Hodge’s senior year in 2013.
Miami falls to 3-6 with difficult games against Ohio and Northern Illinois remaining on the schedule. Ever since the unlikely turnaround the RedHawks’ pulled in 2016 (from 0-6 to 6-6), the team has struggled manufacturing victories in tightly contested conference games.
Jackson, Johnson, and the Bulls’ high-powered offense look to earn their ninth win for the first time as FBS members. The MAC East frontrunners take on the 2-7 Kent State Golden Flashes next Wednesday.