Bulls' historic season ends in poor fashion in bowl loss

Buffalo surrenders seven touchdowns in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

By OWEN O'BRIEN
On December 21, 2013

  • San Diego State wide receiver Ezell Ruffin hauls in a pass despite tight coverage from junior cornerback Cortney Lester. Courtesy of Stanley Brewster
  • In his final game as a Bull, senior running back Branden Oliver totaled 114 yards and added a receiving score. Courtesy of Stanley Brewster
  • Freshman linebacker Brandon Crawford forced a fumble in the first half, which was one of the Bulls' lone bright spots of the day. Courtesy of Stanley Brewster

When Buffalo football took the field in Boise, Idaho, on Dec. 21, it was the latest in the year UB had played since the 2008-09 season. For San Diego State, it was more of just a "Week 13."

And it showed on the blue turf.

San Diego State (8-5, 6-2 Mountain West Conference) defeated the Bulls (8-5, 6-2 Mid-American Conference), 49-24 on Saturday evening in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Aztecs jumped out to an early lead and Buffalo was unable to ever get in serious contention. It was the Aztecs' fourth consecutive season playing in a postseason bowl, and Buffalo's first postseason appearance since the 2009 International Bowl.

Special teams was one facet of the game in which the Bulls believed they had a distinct advantage. San Diego State hadn't converted a field goal since September and had missed its last seven attempts entering the game.

The Aztecs drove the ball 45 yards their first possession to the Bulls' 27-yard line. The Bulls blocked the low kick, but were unable to capitalize on the momentum-shifting opportunity - a theme throughout the day.

Later in the quarter, San Diego State elected to go for it on a fourth and one, rather than kicking the 41-yard attempt. The Buffalo 'D' stalled the Aztec offense at the line of scrimmage, but again the offense was unable to capitalize.

Buffalo's offense couldn't get anything going to start the game. Sophomore quarterback Joe Licata's first four passes were incomplete and the Bulls didn't get a first down until their fifth possession.

Buffalo suffered its first of three turnovers on the second play of the second quarter. Licata was strip-sacked on a third and long, and the Aztecs scored their second touchdown just six plays later.

"You can't turn the ball over and expect to beat a good football team, and that's what happened," said head coach Jeff Quinn.

The Bulls finally picked up a first down on their fifth possession, leading to one of their three touchdowns of the game. Licata found senior running back Branden Oliver on a screen on third down and Oliver took it 10 yards for the touchdown.

Late in the second quarter, Licata fired a pass to senior wide receiver Alex Neutz that bounced off Neutz's chest and resulted in an interception with just 45 seconds left. The turnover proved to be costly, as the Aztecs' Quinn Kaehler hooked up with Dylan Denso on the next play for the fourth score.

"In that situation, you can't turn the ball over, and I took a risk I shouldn't have taken, so that's on me," Licata said.

Buffalo was down 28-10 at halftime.

Kaehler entered the game with 2,796 yards and 17 touchdowns over 11 games. He did not start the team's opening contest, but played in every game after and cemented his spot as the starter after Week Two. Kaehler threw for over 200 yards in every start, including his 211 against Buffalo on Saturday.

The biggest problem for the Buffalo 'D' was trying to contain running back Adam Muema. Muema rushed for 229 yards on 28 carries and had three touchdowns. The junior running back had over 1,000 yards on the season and 12 touchdowns entering the game. He tweeted on Monday that he planned on declaring for the draft after Saturday's game.

UB's senior-laden offense wasn't going to just roll over despite a 42-10 deficit after three quarters. Neutz and senior receiver Fred Lee both found the end zone in the fourth quarter. Neutz finished the game with 77 yards, and Lee added 48. Oliver led the ground game with 114 yards to go along with his receiving score.

"We wouldn't be here today if we didn't have their leadership and their passion and intensity," Quinn said of his seniors.

Buffalo is the fifth different MAC team in five years to play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The previous schools were Ohio, Toledo, Northern Illinois and Bowling Green.

San Diego State's 49 points tied for the second highest total in the history of the bowl, which began in 1997.

This was the final game in a UB uniform for program legends like senior linebacker Khalil Mack, Neutz and Oliver. They will now begin their preparation for April's NFL Draft. Mack has already appeared in the top 10 of many mock drafts and is all but guaranteed to be the highest-drafted Bull in program history.

Buffalo finished with eight wins for only the second time since 1996. The Bulls had totaled nine wins in their first three years under Quinn.

           

email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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