In the opening minutes vs. Rutgers, Buffalo botched the opening kickoff return, dropped a third-down pass, allowed a 22-yard carry to one of the worst rushing teams in the country, fell behind 3-0 and threw an interception. The Bulls' quest for the program's first-ever win over a Big Ten school was going poorly.
Three hours later, they danced out a mostly empty HighPoint Solutions Stadium with their first-ever Big Ten victory, a 42-13 statement in which they ran for nearly 200 yards, committed only three penalties and outgained the Scarlet Knights 445-284.
"I don't know in past years if we could drop a kickoff, drop the first pass of the game . . . and respond without the here-we-go-again mentality we used to have," Bulls' head coach Lance Leipold said on Monday. "I think some of the things that this group went through last year — and they continue to mature and go through it, and it's a credit to our leadership and our assistant coaches — there was no sense of panic and we just kept pounding away at it."
Exterminating that mentality is one big reason why Buffalo is 4-0 for the first time since 1981 and in a good position to win six games in consecutive seasons for the second time in program history and the first time since the Nixon Administration. Last year, they reached bowl eligibility for the first time under Leipold, a first-time FBS head coach now in his fourth season, and just the third time since returning to the FBS in 1999 after a three-decade absence.
Week 5 Rankings: Buffalo Makes Jump
Despite last year's 6-6 mark, Buffalo was one of three bowl-eligible teams not invited to a bowl game, which Leipold called highly disappointing and motivating but said the Bulls won't "just sit and dwell on it" because ultimately it's their own fault.
Their six losses came by an average of 4.8 points, and they didn't lose a game by more than 10 points. In an eventual 24-14 loss to Miami (OH), they gave up a 57-yard pass on the game's opening drive, fell behind 10-0 thanks to miscues on both sides of the ball and never recovered. They missed a go-ahead field goal in the final minutes of a one-point loss Akron, allowed seven third- and fourth-down conversions in the second half of a four-point loss to Army and squandered several opportunities in a seven-overtime loss to Western Michigan.
"We talk about it all the time; a lot of games come down to two or three plays. There were a handful that we wish we could've made those two or three go our way and we didn't," Leipold said.
A year later, Buffalo's 4-0 start includes a late touchdown and strip sack to beat Temple and a 75-yard fourth-quarter touchdown to extend a lead vs. Eastern Michigan. And now, with Saturday's 29-point demolition of Rutgers — the largest margin of victory over an FBS team since 2014 — motivated Buffalo is playing so well that a slow start was brushed off and the first-ever Big Ten win was not decided by two or three plays.