UB Bulls open Leipold era with 51-14 win over FCS Albany
Never judge a team based on its first drive.
The football team’s first drive of the season ended with a quick three-and-out. Albany came back with a 14-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that spanned over six minutes.
Among all the changes during the offseason, the first impressions of new head coach Lance Leipold’s “multiple pro-style offense” and new 4-3 defense weren’t impressive.
After the Great Dane’s touchdown, the Bulls (1-0) went on to score on six of their next seven drives, rolling to the tune of 38 unanswered points and a 51-14 victory over the Great Danes at UB Stadium on Saturday. Buffalo’s 51 points are most points it’s scored in a season opener since 1995 against Fordham.
Buffalo opened last season against a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team, too, and had to fend off a late rally from Duquesne. The Bulls quickly ended any chance of a comeback from FCS Albany Saturday.
The victory, which had an announced attendance of 20,872, was Leipolds first of his Division-I head-coaching career. Leipold called the win a step in building the program. Leipold added that the Bulls started 19 players that were making their college debut.
“We’ll continue to draw crowds and continue to be here,” Leipold said. “We want to build a program, we want to build a fan base. Everybody says that this is a football-passionate area. We want to build an area where people want to be in the Northtowns on Saturday [for Bulls games] and the Southtowns [for Buffalo Bills games] on Sunday.”
The Bulls got on the board with a 9-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Joe Licata to senior wide receiver Marcus McGill. It was one of two touchdown passes on the day for Licata, as he finished with 246 yards on 20-of-26 passing. Entering his final season as for the Bulls, Licata expressed excitement and his comfort in the new offense.
“I’m pretty comfortable in this offense,” Licata said. “Coach [Andy] Kotelnicki has done a great job at teaching. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp at this. A couple plays here and there, he’s going to get mad at me for running it when I should have passed it and vice versa. But we did a pretty good job today.”
The Bulls made quick work of Albany, with 17 of their 38 unanswered points coming in the second quarter. Freshman kicker Adam Mitcheson nailed a 40-yard field goal to give the Bulls the lead, then running backs Anthone Taylor and Jordan Johnson combined for scores – Taylor on a 21-yard scamper and Johnson from one yard out – to give the Bulls a 24-7 lead at halftime.
It was the beginning of a banner day for the offensive line. The Bulls had three starters graduate after last season and started a redshirt freshman, James O’Hagan, at center. In total, the Bulls allowed zero sacks and two tackles for losses for the entire game.
The passing game performed well but it was the running game that did the most damage against Albany. The duo of Johnson and Taylor combined for 173 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Taylor led the way with 17 carries, 104 yards and two scores. After the game, Taylor said the running game was important for a balanced offense.
“If you want to be a champion,” Taylor said, “you have to run a balanced offense. You can’t just run, run, run or pass, pass, pass. You have to balance it out. I think the passing game opened up the running game. You have to respond. Leipold’s philosophy is if they score seven, we have to score eight.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulls were active on all three levels and forced three turnovers and two force fumbles. Two of the three turnovers forced by Buffalo were interceptions, equaling last season’s total for the Bulls for the entire year.
Junior cornerback Boise Ross came away with one of the team’s interceptions and almost snagged another. Senior linebacker Okezie Alozie led the way for Buffalo with seven total tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss and a forced fumble.
The Bulls responded with a strong defensive performance after they said they faced questions about their defense during Mid-American Conference Media Day.
“That’s what Okezie has been talking about at Media Day,” Ross said, while discussing the defense. “We didn’t prove anything yet. We’re coming out and trying to prove that we are a team as a group and not individuals. Everyone on that team is trying to make plays.”
Near the end of the first quarter, freshman safety Jordan Collier was injured on a special teams play and fell face first after colliding with an Albany player. Collier was down on the turf for 10 minutes while Buffalo medical staff attended to him. While down, Collier was able to move his legs and arms but was taken off the field to the hospital for precautionary reasons.
Leipold said the injury to Collier took the “wind out of our sails,” but the team wanted to keep working. Senior tight end Matt Weiser said after Collier left the field in an ambulance, the team wanted to “finish the job” and get the win for both their head coach and injured teammate.
“You take a step back and think about how lucky you are to be healthy,” Weiser said, “how lucky you are to have a teammate that cares about you. You sit there and think, ‘I really hope he’s okay.’ You look at each other and say we have to do this for Jordan. Make plays for Jordan. He just put everything out there.”
The Bulls travel to State College, Pennsylvania to face Penn State (0-1) at Beaver Stadium on Sept. 12. Kickoff for the game is set for 12 p.m.