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Bo-less Bulls stumble on national TV

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the leg injury to Branden “Bo” Oliver that derailed the University at Buffalo Bulls in their 23-7 loss to Kent State. Although losing his best player just before halftime didn’t help Jeff Quinn’s squad, the wheels were slowly falling off before the nation’s third leading rusher went down.

Neither quarterback Alex Zordich, who went a miserable 4-22 passing with two interceptions, nor Quinn could explain the offense’s struggles, especially after the same unit racked up 23 points against No. 5 Georgia and piled on eight touchdowns against woeful Morgan State.

“Just a bad day all-around,” admitted Zordich, who was replaced by backup Joe Licata with 3:58 left in the game. “Individually, this team needs more from me, and I put that on my shoulders. I expect more out of myself to help this team win, and we all offensively just weren’t making plays, and we weren’t able to help out our defense.”

After showing poise, accuracy and a solid command of the offense in the first two contests, Zordich was consistently off-target with his throws, overthrowing deep balls to Neutz and often releasing late on intermediate throws. His receivers were of little assistance, however, as a bad drop from tight end Alex Dennison resulted in a pick by Kent State’s Luke Wollet in the first half, and drops by Dennison and fellow tight end Jimmy Gordon wasted decent tosses by Zordich in the third quarter.

There’s been no update yet on the status of Oliver, who was dinged up before halftime, didn’t enter the field in the second half with his teammates and was seen walking gingerly without pads next to his father early in the third quarter. He’ll be evaluated today, but the injury didn’t look long-term, as “Bo” could put weight on his leg. Additional first-half injuries to defensive end Steven Means and wide receiver Fred Lee—two valuable upperclassman starters—further hampered the Bulls.

Kent State’s thunder-and-lightning tandem of powerful Trayion Durham (23 carries, 112 yards) and shifty Dri Archer (14 carries, 127 yards) kept the Bulls’ defense off-balance and favored the Golden Flashes in time of possession, especially in the second half. Buffalo held the ball for eight minutes in the second frame to Kent State’s 21. KSU head coach Darrell Hazell’s play-calling—which featured a healthy dose of misdirection runs and bootlegs—hid reserve QB David Fisher’s shortcomings and amplified Archer’s speed out of the backfield.

It was Archer who put the Golden Flashes on the board first, punctuating his 57-yard sideline-to-sideline run earlier in the drive with an 11-yard scamper to pay-dirt, aided by a terrific block on the edge by reserve tight end Kyle Payton. The scoring play was initially ruled out on the two yard line, but upon further review, the call was reversed.

“We knew going into the game that [Archer] was an explosive back and receiver, and our job was to limit the big plays that he had,” said Bulls’ corner Najja Johnson, who forced Kent State’s lone turnover of the night. “I thought we did a good job of that in the second half, but we have to be more consistent.”

Fortunately for the Bulls, Kent State wasn’t able to pull away in the first half, as starting QB Spencer Keith was a feeble 6-15 for 72 yards, allowing three sacks. Fisher, who finished 7-13 for 93 yards and an INT, wasn’t much better, but he looked considerably more comfortable and dangerous than the panicking incumbent.

Even Buffalo’s lone touchdown, which came on a 46-yard Hail Mary on the final play of the first half, felt like a fluke. Deadspin shot video of the ESPNU TV feed of the play here.

“[It was] a regular old Hail Mary type play,” Neutz explained. “Zordich put the ball out there for one of the receivers to make a play. I looked for the ball—as I was running up the field, I saw I’d be a little short, and I judged it, came in and tried to out-jump everyone for it. Next thing I knew I was in the end zone, so it worked out.”

Understandably, the Bulls in the press conference—Quinn, Neutz, Zordich, Mack and Johnson—were visibly frustrated, with Mack stewing in Javon McCrea-fashion. The mood was different, however, than after UB losses last season. The frustration stemmed not from the fact that Buffalo lost, but from a home defeat on national TV in front of 14,373 fans in a game the team fully expected to win.

“We absolutely believed that we’d win this game coming into it,” Neutz said, shaking his head. “There was no false confidence: we were prepared, coaches had a great game-plan laid out, and we felt more than confident that we’d go out there and put on a good performance tonight and win the game. We just didn’t execute the way we should have.”

The Bulls (1-2, 0-1 in MAC play) travel to Connecticut to face the Huskies at noon on Sept. 29.

(Photos courtesy of Don Nieman from last night’s gallery).

TAGGED: branden oliver, buffalo bulls, dri archer, jeff quinn, kent state golden flashes, mac football, ub bulls

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