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Battered Bulls head to UConn for Saturday tilt

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

While it looks increasingly likely that the Buffalo Bulls will be without the centerpiece of their offense—stud tailback Branden Oliver—on Saturday in Connecticut, the team must respond after a colossal letdown at home on national TV against Kent State.

Oliver suffered a left leg injury against the Golden Flashes, and the University at Buffalo Athletics Department has been unnervingly mum about his status for the UConn (2-2) game. USA Today lists Oliver as “questionable” for Saturday’s tilt (noon, on ESPN3 and SNY), and the Buffalo News’ Bob DiCesare considers no. 32 “doubtful,” since there’s no sense in risking further injury before the MAC schedule continues.

Oliver isn’t the lone name on the injury list for Jeff Quinn’s Bulls (1-2); no. 2 receiver Fred Lee is unlikely to suit up, and valuable starting fullback Boomer Brock is out indefinitely, weakening Buffalo’s rushing attack even more. Expect Cordero Dixon, Rudy Johnson and Devon Hughes to each receive opportunities to seize the no. 2 job in Lee’s absence, while last season’s part-time starter Rashad Jean steps in for Brock. Defensive end Steven Means and linebacker Isaac Baugh are probable, however, even though the duo left the Kent State game early.

Saturday will also mark the first time that UB football has faced former Director of Athletics Warde Manuel, who departed Amherst in February for the same position with the Big East’s Huskies.

The Bulls can take heart in the fact that UConn fell to MAC foe Western Michigan, 30-24, last Saturday on the road. In fact, the Mid-American Conference posted four wins against high-major opponents last Saturday, as Central Michigan stunned Iowa, Northern Illinois nipped Kansas and Ball State came back to trump South Florida.

UConn’s traditionally stellar defense will make Bulls quarterback Alex Zordich’s path to redemption a little rocky, as the Huskies rank fourth in the Big East in scoring defense through four games (15.2 points allowed per game.) A very low-scoring affair could be in the cards, however, as former Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni has UConn’s offense tallying a conference-worst 23 points per game.

Since Donald Brown trampled all over the Bulls in the International Bowl at the conclusion of the 2008 season, the Huskies have faced the Bulls twice, winning both by a combined score of 62-20. Annoyingly for UB, Connecticut returns five exceptional defenders from last year’s squad— NFL prospect linebacker Yawin Smallwood and his reliable partner Sio Moore, shutdown cornerback tandem Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, and senior speed-rusher Trevardo Williams.

Chandler Whitmer is a first-year starter for Pasqualoni, but he’s tossed twice as many interceptions (6) as he has touchdowns (3, duh), and Lyle McCombs is a rather pedestrian running back. Still, kick returner-wide receiver Nick Williams, who torched the Bulls for two big plays in last year’s 17-3 UConn win.

With Brandon Murie and Devin Campbell leading the charge instead of Bo Oliver, Buffalo’s offense strikes fear in no one, especially a defense as experienced and talented as the Huskies. UConn enters the affair as 18-point favorites, a much larger gap than I’d anticipated. Will Buffalo’s shorthanded offense prove its doubters wrong?

(Photos courtesy of Dave Marino from last year’s game vs. UConn—see the full gallery here).

TAGGED: branden oliver, jeff quinn, mac football, paul pasqualoni, ub bulls, uconn huskies, university at buffalo

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