Immediate reactions: UB 32, UMass 3
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • October 19, 2013 @ 5:22pm
When the University at Buffalo demolished its previous three opponents by an average of 30 points, it’s fair to say the Bulls avoided playing down to the level of their competition, stamping their authority on the game in dominant first halves.
A rebuilding UConn club, which fired its head coach after losing to UB, trailed 28-12 at halftime; an abysmal Eastern Michigan program trotted out the fifth-worst defense in the country and trailed 28-7 to UB at the break; while a Western Michigan team ranked second-last in the nation fell behind 28-7 as well.
On a sloppy afternoon at UB Stadium, however, the Bulls battled through a sloppy first half—leading only 13-3—before pulling away from the Massachusetts Minutemen, 32-3. UB improves to 3-0 in conference and 5-2 overall, pushing its win-streak to five games, matching its Division I-best from the 2008 bowl season.
A surprisingly aggressive UMass secondary—which knocked UB’s best receiver, Alex Neutz, out of the game in the second quarter with a concussion—held QB Joe Licata at bay through the air and, at least temporarily, bottled up Branden Oliver just enough to only trail 13-3 at halftime, with the lone touchdown coming from a 35-yard interception return by probable NFL first-round pick Khalil Mack.
UB’s defense stiffened even more in the second frame, however, as Okoye Houston dropped UMass runner Jamal Wilson for a safety, and the offense began to show signs of life. QB Joe Licata found senior wide-out Fred Lee for a seven-yard score early in the fourth quarter before Bo Oliver capped a record-setting afternoon with a five-yard score.
Historic Bo: With a 15-yard carry in the third quarter, UB senior running back Branden Oliver surpassed James Starks’ career mark of 3,140 yards—achieved over a three-year span because the current NFLer missed his season senior to injury. At the same time, however, Oliver has missed eight games over his four-year career, and he rushed over 10 times on only four occasions in his freshman season.
Given the inclement weather conditions—steady rain throughout—UB head coach Jeff Quinn put the ball in Oliver’s hands time and time again, totaling a school-record 43 carries, 216 yards and a five-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
The Bo-Dozer will go down in UB lore as one of the Bulls most dynamic players—and one of the most enjoyable to watch. His ankle-breaking cuts, tree-trunk legs, startling burst in the open field, Fred Jackson-like ability to make something out of nothing and humble, God-fearing attitude will leave a legacy in Amherst.
Will his accomplishments include a Mid-American Conference title and a bowl victory?
Battle of attrition: Your typical grind-it-out contest came down to defense and special teams, as UB’s Patrick Clarke connected from 44, 36 and 27 yards, while Mack’s TD and Houston’s safety alone amounted to enough points to knock off 1-6 UMass—which has only participated in NCAA Division 1-A Football since 2012.
Aside from a sprinkling of positive moments—namely two straight catches by Tajae Sharpe against UB’s best corner, Najja Johnson, as well as a successful designed scampers by QB A.J. Doyle—the Minutemen struggled to consistently move the football, as a host of UB defenders made plays: Kristjan Sokoli, Lee Skinner, Adam Redden, Mack, Houston and Beau Bachtelle, to name a few.
Appreciating Khalil Mack: Highlighted by a first-half sack, his second-quarter pick-six and an even nastier pass break-up—where he retreated five yards, turned and reached down to slap the ball away, all in seemingly one motion.
At the midpoint of the 2013 season, Mack looks destined to be a mid-first round pick—he ranked No. 9 in the country on Mel Kiper Jr.‘s last big board—and he did little to dissuade scouts with Saturday’s performance.
The senior linebacker’s stats weren’t overwhelming—three tackles, one sack, one INT and one TD, but he sat much of the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.
Bizarre moments: The first half alone featured several rare occurrences: On two straight plays in the second quarter, UB lost two of its senior captains. Left guard Jasen Carlson felt the brunt of 208-pound bowling ball Branden Oliver fall on his leg, and the ensuing prayer circle and arrival of the injury cart suggested a serious injury.
On the very next snap, however, Licata’s deep throw down the middle hit the hands of Alex Neutz before he was plowed by Minutemen safety Randall Jette.
The former Grand Island HS star laid motionless for a few seconds before moving his right arm, then sat up woozily a minute later. Diagnosed with a concussion, Neutz missed the rest of the game—and given the current fears surrounding football-related concussions, it would behoove the Bulls to be careful with their star wide receiver..
Starting defensive end and reigning Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Week Colby Way left the game in the first half with a knee injury and didn’t return.
UMass tight end Rob Branchflower was disqualified for a feeble slap in the direction of UB linebacker Jake Stockman, who, while laying on the ground, wrapped his legs around the right leg of his opponent. Seeking to disentangle the bodies, Branchflower took a soft swing in the UB junior’s direction—enough to warrant the ejection of the Minutemen’s second-leading receiver.
The mischief continued, as UMass committed a 15-yard team unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during a dead-ball shortly after Blanchflower’s dismissal before committing two personal foul “late hit” penalties in the second half.
Amid all the injuries and infractions, the officials had a few missteps of their own: they called a timeout to determine what the down at one point and asked for a change to the game-clock on three occasions. Due to the near-constant whistles and stoppages, the first half nearly took two hours.
Stat-line(s) I liked: UB’s 215 yards rushing to UMass’ 85; UB’s (+3) turnover margin
Stat-line I didn’t like: While not exactly a true statistic, injuries to Neutz, Way and Carlson—some of which may be serious—could derail the Bulls from their quest to win the conference.
Next up: UB visits Kent State at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday.
(Photos courtesy of Don Nieman from the win two weeks ago over Eastern Michigan—see that full gallery here and keep peeled for his UMass vs. UB gallery on Sunday morning.)