MINNEAPOLIS, MN – The University at Buffalo football team put a major scare into the Big Ten's Minnesota Gophers, before falling, 17-7, at the TCF Bank Stadium in the opener to the 2017 season on Thursday night. An experienced Minnesota team returned 17 starters to a team that won nine games and won a bowl game a year ago, but had trouble shaking the Bulls.
"I'm awfully proud of our football team," head coach Lance Leipold said. "I think we took a big step forward as a program and what we're hoping to develop as far as playing with a relentless attitude and making it tough on people. I thought we did that tonight."
After losing a pair of starting wide receivers to graduation following the 2016 campaign, a big question entering this season was who was going to step up in that role? That question was quickly answered with the debut of Anthony Johnson. Playing in his first career game for the Bulls after redshirting last season, the junior wideout finished with 11 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. His 11 catches were two shy of the single-game school record.
He and quarterback Tyree Jackson made an instant connection. Half of Jackson's completions were to Johnson as the sophomore signal-caller went 22-for-42 for 211 yards and a touchdown in the game.
The UB defense also made major strides from last year, as they held the strong-running Gopher squad to 169 yards rushing in the game. Middle linebacker Khalil Hodge led the way with a career-high 20 tackles. It was the most tackles in a game by a UB player since Davonte Shannon had 20 against Army in 2008.
Minnesota struck first in the game on a 61-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead with 9:35 left in the first quarter. The Bulls responded shortly after with a quick scoring drive of their own to tie the game. The big play on the drive was a 50-yard hookup from Jackson to Johnson that set up the Bulls at the Minnesota 16-yard line. One play later, Jackson found Johnson for a 16-yard touchdown pass to tie the game, 7-7, with 4:37 left in the first quarter.
The Gophers immediately answered with a long scoring drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run to regain a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
It looked as if Minnesota was going to build on its lead late in the first half. However, on a third-and-goal play at the UB 5, Cameron Lewis came up with an interception in the endzone to keep the lead 14-7 at the half.
The Bulls' defense continued to play well in the second half, but Minnesota stepped up its defensive effort as well. Both teams traded punts for most of the second half until the Gophers added a 43-yard field goal with 2:05 left in the game to ice it.
The Bulls are back in action next Saturday when they play at Army.