Buffalo has only been to two bowl games in its 26-year existence as a Division-1A football program – 2008 and 2013 – but first-year head coach Lance Leipold has the Bulls in position to bump that number to three in 2015.
With a 29-24 win over Miami (OH) on Thursday night in Yager Stadium, Buffalo has increased its record to 4-4 (2-2 MAC) on the season, while doing the same with its postseason chances.
“I am proud of the way we kept fighting and competing all the way to the end,” Leipold said following the win. “We had opportunities to put them away, and we didn’t, but you have to give credit to Chuck Martin and his team.”
Buffalo outgained Miami in total offense, 433-348, as quarterback Joe Licata finished 22-of-29 (75.9 percent) with 289 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, hitting a season-high 10 different receivers. On defense, the Bulls dominated the line of scrimmage, securing eight tackles for loss (tied for a season high) and three sacks.
“It’s definitely frustrating because we see how successful we can be when we execute our game plan and everyone is doing their assignments,” said Miami sophomore wide receiver Sam Martin, who finished the game with a team-high four receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown. “We feel like it’s nothing really the defense is doing to stop us, it’s us shooting ourselves in the foot most times.”
Miami had plenty of opportunities to end what was a seven-game losing streak heading into the game. The RedHawks were tied at halftime (17-17) and had a chance to drive down the field to win the game with 30 seconds left on the final possession.
But the Bulls’ defense was relentless, suffocating opposing freshman quarterback Billy Bahl – who went 13-of-36 (36.1 percent) for 224 yards and two touchdowns – forcing numerous hurries and knocking down a season-high 12 passes. Bahl was also sacked on the final play of the game.
“Right now we are 0-0,” said Licata during the post-game press conference. “We have played two-thirds of our season and we have four games left. If we win these four games, by taking it one game at a time, you never know what can happen in the MAC.”
Buffalo, which hits the four-win mark nearly two weeks earlier than it did in the 2014 season, is riding a two-game winning streak as it enters the month of November – a stretch that will determine whether it will continue to play into December.
The Bulls will travel to Kent State (3-5, 2-2) next Thursday (Nov. 5) before hosting Northern Illinois (5-3) in Week 11. They will then hit the road to play Akron (3-4) before the regular season finale at home against UMass (1-6).
“We have a goal of making a bowl game and as long as we take it one game at time and do what we have to do on our end, the sky’s the limit,” said Licata.
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), Buffalo is projected to finish the season 6-6 (4-4), with victories over the Golden Flashes (57.4 percent chance to win) and the Minutemen (63.1). That would be good enough to for the Bulls to become bowl eligible – a goal that not many expected Leipold to reach in Year 1, following a 2014 season that ended with an overall FPI ranking of No. 112.
A postseason appearance would further indicate that Buffalo made the right decision taking a chance on Leipold, who went 109-6 with six NCAA Division III Championships with Wisconsin-Whitewater from 2007-14.
And if recent history is telling, it’s almost inevitable that Buffalo will indeed win two of its next four to reach a bowl game – the Bulls enter November with a .500 record or better for just the third time as an FBS member. Those campaigns ended with an appearance in the International Bowl (2008) and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (2013), the only two bowls in school history.
Buffalo will play Kent State next Thursday night at Dix Stadium in what is a must-win situation for the Bulls.