Immediate reactions: UB Bulls 41, UConn Huskies 12
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • September 28, 2013 @ 5:17pm
Maybe dunking head coach Jeff Quinn with the Gatorade cooler as the clock reached :00 was excessive, but the University at Buffalo Bulls coasted to a 41-12 thumping of the UConn Huskies in front of an announced 20,952 at UB Stadium [box score].
The Bulls (2-2) furthered a miserable season for Connecticut, which remains win-less after four games under head coach Paul Pasqualoni. It was UB’s final tuneup before the Mid-American Conference slate begins at noon next Saturday against Eastern Michigan, and UB can qualify for a bowl game by going 4-4 in conference play.
With the Huskies entering UB Stadium favored by a point—and only dropping a 24-21 result to No. 14 Michigan—the failure to protect the football and the absence of four starters were just a few ingredients that led to UConn’s demise. As much as UConn lost the game, however, UB seized the opportunities graciously doled out by the visitors.
Here are the pros and cons of UB’s win:
Causing turnovers & capitalizing: The Bulls tied for ninth in the Mid-American Conference with 13 forced turnovers in 2012 and only generated five through the first three games of the 2013 season. It’s no secret that turnover margin is a critical stat category at any level of football, and UB was (+3) on Saturday.
Bulls defensive coordinator Lou Tepper game-planned aggressively, sending LB/S Adam Redden regularly on blitzes—leading to two sacks from the senior, including a strip and recovery on UConn’s first drive that jump-started UB’s rout.
Tepper’s approach, perhaps, was an indictment of Huskies’ QB Chandler Whitmer, who’d completed just 58 percent of his passes entering Saturday and was missing leading receiver Shakim Phillips. Whitmer’s whimper of a day—10-24 passing, 182 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions—epitomized a Husky offense that mustered only 220 total yards.
Najja Johnson’s first-quarter pick-six was unfortunate for Whitmer, whose pass was tipped at the line and sailed directly into the senior corner’s arms with an open lane to the end zone. The corner opposite Johnson, Cortney Lester, took advantage of a Whitmer overthrow for his interception, and Pasqualoni’s quarterback clearly missed Phillips’ presence. Only wide receiver Geremy Davis threatened UB’s defense, hauling in five catches for 102 yards—all in the first half.
As the floodgates opened, Pasqualoni inserted redshirt-freshman Casey Cochran in place of Whitmer, and the replacement was welcomed rudely, finding himself lodged in the turf by Tedroy Lynch as he released a pass that was picked off by upstart UB linebacker Nick Gilbo.
UB finished the contest with four takeaways—a fumble recovery and three picks—the most since UB turned over Western Michigan QB Alex Carder five times last year.
Special teams: For a program that’s lacked a true special teams star since the graduations of punt returner Terrell Jackson and kicker A.J. Principe—and suffered through the doldrums of Peter Fardon’s last-second failed extra point against Northern Illinois in 2011 and a series of noodle-legged punters—UB’s special teams effort on Saturday was exceptional.
In the first half alone, punter Tyler Grassman pinned UConn at its 10, Devin Campbell took a kickoff back 51 yards into UConn territory and senior Colby Way got his mitts on a Chad Christen field goal.
Sure, Patrick Clarke’s missed 41-yard field goal at the close of the first half was regrettable, but he redeemed himself with a booming 49-yarder—tying his career high—and then a 50-yarder to set his own personal record. He also missed a 49-yarder in the fourth quarter, but the game had been decided long before.
Defensive interior: I’ve been critical of the Bulls’ defensive tackles over the past four years—Richie Smith was a hard worker and likeable guy, but it’s clear that Turner Gill, Jeff Quinn and Lou Tepper preferred disruptive players over space cloggers.
Kristjan Sokoli isn’t any more meaty than Smith was—they’re both 300 pounds even—but the current Bull’s interior push helped hold UConn to 2.5 yards per carry on the afternoon.
Because UConn couldn’t establish a balanced attack, Redden was more free to blitz, and the attention paid to UB star Khalil Mack indirectly contributed to Beau Bachtelle’s two sacks. If Sokoli can sustain his effectiveness, UB’s defensive could emerge as one of the MAC’s best.
Licata’s deep throws: Saturday’s romp proved a great confidence booster for sophomore QB Joe Licata, who established a new career high with three touchdown passes on only 10 completions.
His 22-yard streak to Alex Neutz in the first half was perfectly weighted, and his 36-yard strike to Fred Lee in the fourth quarter embarrassed UConn emergency starter Jhavon Williams, a redshirt freshman stepping in for senior corner Taylor Mack.
Licata’s lone interception—a third quarter pick by UConn 6’4 safety Obi Melifonwu—hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, even though intended receiver Devon Hughes could have done more to swat the ball to the turf. Overall, Licata wasn’t exactly Mr. Consistent with his tosses, but his couple moments of brilliance were enough in this blowout.
Penalties: Fred Lee’s downfield holding muted a Branden Oliver rush to 15 yards instead of 29. Adam Redden’s personal foul for a near-decapitating block on UConn’s DeShon Foxx was largely unnecessary—and frankly, pretty dangerous (though not everyone agrees with me)—and moving UB’s starting position from the UConn 37 to the Bulls’ 48.
The occasional lapses in discipline weren’t costly to the team’s success today, but come conference play, the Bulls can ill afford seven penalties for 70 yards.
Secondary depth: UB’s four starters in the secondary are solid—Johnson was terrific today, Lester contributed his INT, and Okoye Houston and Derek Brim were steady. If injuries hit, however, the team has a legion of inexperienced backups in Witney Sherry, Tomarris Bell, Marqus Baker and Carlos Lammons.
Sherry struggled in zone coverage against the much larger Davis, getting posted up at his own two-yard line late in the first half before UConn’s Lyle McCombs punched in his TD run.
(Images courtesy of Don Nieman from the UB vs. Ohio State game— see that full gallery here—and stay tuned for today’s UB vs. UConn photos).