UB Bulls defense outshines offense in ‘weird’ 33-15 victory over Florida Atlantic

Buffalo’s ‘D’ scores three touchdowns and records safety in win

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It’s always been about the Buffalo football team’s offense.

That’s the unit that possesses the Bulls’ superstars and playmakers that have potential to score more than 40 points a game week in and week out.

That unit didn’t live up to the hype Saturday.

To the surprise of many, the team’s success was the result of its once suspect defense. The ‘D’ had the playmakers. The ‘D’ played like they were the superstars of the team.

The Bulls (2-1) defeated Florida Atlantic (0-3) 33-15 Saturday FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida behind one of the most impressive defensive team performances in recent memory. The ‘D’ scored 23 of Buffalo’s 33 points through three touchdowns and a safety. It was the first time Buffalo’s defense had ever recorded three touchdowns in a game and the unit even had as many fumble return yards as the offense had passing yards (105).

“There’s always one of those weird games early on,” said senior quarterback Joe Licata. “At the end of the day, we won and we’re excited. That’s all that matters. We’re excited for each other and we’re excited to be 2-1. It sounds a lot better than 1-2.”

Junior defensive tackle Brandon Crawford’s fumble recovery for a touchdown with 5:40 left in the game cemented the win. The defense’s performance ended with a starter in Crawford, but it began with a reserve.

With less than two minutes to play in the first half, senior linebacker Brandon Berry forced a sack and fumble on the FAU 40-yard line and teammate Travis Pitzonka picked it up and ran back 60 yards for the Bulls’ first score.

Pitzonka, a senior linebacker who hasn’t seen much of the field other than on special teams during his time with the Bulls, had arguably the finest day of his college career. He finished with three tackles, one sack to go along with the fumble return for a touchdown.

“I was gripping that ball with my life,” Pitzonka said of his touchdown.

The defense wasn’t finished making big-time plays just yet. With the Owls moving down the field in the third quarter, sophomore safety Ryan Williamson recovered a fumble and returned it back to the Owls’ 10-yard line. The turnover resulted in a 19-yard field goal to put Buffalo up 10-9.

Junior cornerback Boise Ross showcased his potential during the first two games of the season and his progression furthered even more Saturday. The converted wide receiver made four key tackles, but no play was bigger than his interception return for a touchdown.

Just 17 seconds after Buffalo went up 10-9, Ross picked off Owl’s quarterback Jason Driskel for 39 yards and took it back all the way for Buffalo’s second defensive touchdown of the day.

“We talked that they were going to do something,” said head coach Lance Leipold of Florida Atlantic’s down the field passing. “They were trying to make something happen. They were either going to start going one direction or take a shot. Boise had great anticipation. He came up big right there. He really switched it on for good.”

With 4:40 left in the third, senior linebacker Nick Gilbo stuffed Driskel inside his own end zone, resulting in a safety. It was the final defensive score of the day for Buffalo. Gilbo had one of the most complete games for the defense as he finished with nine tackles and 1.5 sacks in addition to the safety.

Altogether, the Buffalo ‘D’ helped fuel a run of 26 unanswered points and bailed out the offense.

Licata had a rough start to his day as he threw for only 57 yards on 6-of-13 passing with an interception in the first half. The day didn’t get much better for him as he finished with just 105 passing yards. He snapped his passing touchdown streak, which ended at 14 games. It was only his third college game where he didn’t throw a touchdown pass.

“It was frustrating,” Licata said of the offense. “But we knew our defense was keeping us in the game. We were sticking to our game plan and run the ball inside. Just stick to it and execute and eventually, they would break.

Despite Licata’s subpar performance, the Buffalo backfield picked up the offensive slack.

Senior running back Anthone Taylor picked up yet another 100-yard game as he ran for 116 yards on 25 carries. Junior Jordan Johnson also had an impressive day with 66 yards rushing and the Bulls’ only offensive touchdown of the day. Johnson’s 19-yard scamper in the third quarter gave Buffalo a 17-point lead, its highest lead margin of the day.

The Bulls return home next week against their final non-conference opponent in Nevada (1-2) on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.

Jordan Grossman is the Senior Sports Editor and can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman