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UB Bulls get first MAC win, defeat Ohio 41-17

Buffalo snaps three-game losing streak with dominant performance

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Lance Leipold felt a different feeling in the football team’s locker room at the beginning of this week.

It wasn’t yelling or screaming, like what may have been the case after Buffalo’s embarrassing 51-14 loss to Central Michigan last Saturday.

It was silence.

The team had a mentality of “What do we want to do? Where do we want to go? What do we want to be?”

“I’m very thankful for this team’s maturity of handling that and to keep working the way that they have,” Leipold, Buffalo’s first-year head coach, said.

That maturity came through Saturday as the Bulls (3-4, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) grew up before everyone’s eyes and defeated Ohio (5-3, 2-2 MAC) 41-17 at UB Stadium for their first MAC win of the season. Buffalo got the win – which gives it a little bit of life in the MAC East – with a big defensive performance full of takeaways and defensive scores.

“After the game last week, I was not happy,” Leipold said after Saturday’s win. “When I left my office on Monday afternoon for our first team meeting of the week, there was a different feeling in the room.”

The Bulls’ defense didn’t get off to a great start, as it allowed Ohio running back Daz’mond Patterson to score virtually untouched on a 6-yard rush through the middle. But beginning on the next drive, the Bobcats’ offense looked lost as the Buffalo defense came together for perhaps the first time since a 33-15 victory over Florida Atlantic more than a month ago.

Buffalo scored two defensive touchdowns, grabbed four interceptions and allowed just 54 rushing yards Saturday, thanks in part to a senior linebacker who played more like his old position.

Senior linebacker Okezie Alozie, who used to play safety, had a career day with three tackles, two interceptions, two pass breakups and a sack. The interceptions were the first of his college career.

With Ohio down 11 and with the ball toward the end of the first half, Alozie put a halt to a possible comeback by taking advantage of a weak throw by quarterback Derrius Vick. Alozie intercepted the pass and ran it back 22 yards for Buffalo’s second defensive score of the day that gave it an 18-point lead.

The linebacker picked off Vick for a second time later in the second quarter, which setup a 24-yard field goal by freshman placekicker Adam Mitcheson to close out the half with Buffalo ahead 31-10.

“It’s a blessing,” Alozie said about getting his first two interceptions. “You may see that one play, but you don’t necessarily recognize the other guys who are working around you.”

Linebackers Nick Gilbo and Brandon Berry also had career games. Berry, a junior, recorded 13 tackles. It was his fifth straight game of 10-plus tackles, the most consecutive games in program history since 2001. Gilbo, a senior, registered a career-high 15 tackles.

“We play for the coaches, we play for each other and we have a coach that doesn’t accept anything nothing but greatness from us,” Berry said. “We want to make sure he’s satisfied – which he’s never. But we want to make sure we keep a little heat off of us so we go out there and play hard.”

The status of senior running back Anthone Taylor was in doubt all week due to an ankle injury. Taylor still dressed as if he was going to play, but he did not see the field other than pregame warm-ups. Junior Jordan Johnson started and took full advantage of the opportunity.

Johnson ran for a career-high 147 yards on a career-high 28 carries and two touchdowns in his first career start. His most crucial run was a 17-yard draw play on third down that eventually set up a field goal by Mitcheson to make it a three-possession game and grant Buffalo more control at 34-17.

The Bulls hadn’t been up by three scores since Sept. 19 at Florida Atlantic.

Coaches told Johnson he’d be the starter shortly before the game, but Johnson was practicing all week as the first-string running back.

“I had to step up,” Johnson said. “[Taylor is] a great leader. He helped me throughout the week so I can make the right reads. And during the game, he did the same thing.”

The Buffalo offense finally got going after a couple stymied weeks. Senior quarterback Joe Licata missed his first two passes, but then completed nine straight passes en route to throwing for 212 yards on 21-of-32 passing.

Licata failed to throw a touchdown pass, but his quick decision-making and precise passes stood out in the game. He also eclipsed 8,000 career passing yards midway through the second quarter.

Junior cornerback Boise Ross continued his torrid defensive season with two more pass breakups. He now has 16 on the season – a new school record. He broke a tie with former defensive back Najja Johnson for the most in program history.

“This game can start something,” Johnson said. “Coming off of a loss and coming back to winning a game like this. Ohio’s a good team … But a game like this is something that we need. We needed a confidence boost.”

The Bulls will continue MAC play in a shortened week when they visit Oxford, Ohio to play Miami Ohio (1-7, 0-4 MAC) on Thursday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and the game can be viewed on ESPN3.

Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman.


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