Immediate reactions: UB 41, Kent State 21
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • October 26, 2013 @ 5:54pm
It hasn’t always been easy to be a University at Buffalo football fan since the miraculous 2008-09 International Bowl run, but the 2013-14 senior class has confirmed that the program’s success didn’t begin and end with Drew Willy, James Starks and Naaman Roosevelt.
With Saturday’s 41-21 road defeat of Kent State in Dix Stadium, the UB Bulls clinched bowl eligibility with their sixth win of the season.
Not surprisingly, UB was buoyed on offense by all-time leading rusher Branden Oliver—who accumulated four touchdowns and 185 yards on the ground—and on defense by Khalil Mack, whose pivotal interception in the second quarter turned the tide.
The Bulls’ win marked its first six-game win streak as an NCAA Division I-A school and its longest as a program since 1959.
To see what potential bowl games the Bulls could play in, check out this useful link from CollegeFootballPoll.com.
The fact that the Mid-American Conference’s No. 1 would play in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on the evening before the BCS National Championship Game speaks volumes about the dramatic potential conclusion to the Bulls’ season. Knocking off nationally-ranked Northern Illinois (No. 18) would be quite the feat, though.
**Turning point: Although Kent State showed signs of life—especially offensively—in the second half, the game’s true turning point came in the late second quarter.
With UB holding a precarious 13-7 lead, Kent State redshirt-freshman QB Colin Reardon drove the Golden Flashes to the UB 14 with under three minutes before the half, scything through the Bulls defense as the power running of Trayion Durham made Reardon more dangerous through the air.
On 1st and 10, however, Reardon tried to thread a pass through traffic just outside the right hashmarks—Mack reached his big right mitt in the air, corralling the interception with one arm and rumbling in the other direction for 45 yards into Kent State territory.
Three plays following a 29-yard crossing pattern to versatile back Devin Campbell, Oliver dashed down the left sideline, bulldozing KSU cornerback Darius Polk en route to pay-dirt. What could have been a 14-13 deficit was a 20-7 UB lead heading into the break.
**Appreciating Oliver: For a man so built so compactly, Oliver proves time and time again that he possesses tremendous wiggle, especially when he reaches the second level. His low center of gravity and brute strength comes in handy in short yardage situations, but he’s a middle-class version of Maurice Jones-Drew in that he owns plenty of big-play ability too.
Oliver doesn’t deserve all the credit for breaking UB’s single-game carries record, the program’s all-time rushing record and the single-game rushing TDs record over a span of two games (in which his stat-line is a mind-boggling 74 carries for 401 yards and 5 TDs). Even without senior captain and starting left guard Jasen Carlson—out for the year with a leg fracture suffered last week against UMass—holes were gaping inside and out for Oliver all afternoon.
Whether it was fill-in starter John Kling, steady right guard Andre Davis or midrift-special center Trevor Sales—or redshirt-senior leader Alex Dennison who’s now a fullback after switching from QB to TE—Oliver rarely met contact at the line of scrimmage, allowing him to look farther downfield and find cutback lanes against second-level defenders.
For Kent State, it certainly didn’t help that undersized-yet-disruptive nose tackle Roosevelt Nix (5-11, 260 pounds) played sparingly through a herniated disc in his back.
Jeff Quinn, an offensive-line guru himself, must be proud of how his blockers played “this great game of football.”
**Stupid play of the game: Don’t overlook the importance of this bonehead play by Kent State senior captain Phil Huff. After Tyshon Goode caught an 18-yard TD from Reardon to narrow the margin to 13, 34-21, Huff was whistled for a personal foul penalty that set the Golden Flashes back 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff.
With KSU booting from its own 20, UB freshman Boise Ross returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the Kent State 39 yard line. Two plays later, Joe Licata lofted a perfect 30-yard deep ball into the arms of a streaking Devon Hughes, and conceding that score sucked much of the life out of Paul Haynes’ team.
**Losing Redden: Not all the news was good for UB, as the Bulls lost star linebacker Adam Redden to a knee injury in the second quarter after the senior from St. Francis High School dove to the ground to tackle slippery Golden Flash RB/WR Dri Archer.
The linebacker clutched his knee—remained in the game for the next play—then limped off to seek medical attention on the UB sideline.
He spent the second half on crutches, and judging by the tweets of The Buffalo News’ Bulls beat writer Bob DiCesare, the prognosis looks grim.
The loss of Redden—essentially a hybrid linebacker-safety—will certainly hurt, especially in run support. Safety Ekezie Alozie and freshman linebacker Brandon Crawford seem poised to see more playing time, but a collective effort will be necessary to replace the surprising senior’s impact.
**Licata’s quiet improvement: Now 9-3 as a college starter, Joe Licata passed for 285 yards against Kent State—matching his career-high set last season against Western Michigan—and he continued to excel close to the goal line through his 8-yard hook-up with Alex Neutz for the game’s first touchdown.
The game-sealing deep throw to Devon Hughes was an NFL-caliber toss—the type we’ve been seeing more and more frequently by the strong-armed Licata, made even more impressive by the swirling Ohio wind.
**What’s next?: The Bulls return home against Ohio (6-2 overall, 3-1 MAC) for an 8 p.m. clash on Nov. 5—it’ll be nationally televised on ESPN2, so UB Stadium should be packed to the brim to prove that Western New York supports a surging college football team.
(Interior photos courtesy of Don Nieman from UB vs. UMass and UB vs. Eastern Michigan)