Licata’s first start proves he is ready to play full time
Well, it finally happened. The Bulls have won against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent for the first time in just under a year.
There were many clutch performances in what was an eventful game, including junior running back Branden Oliver's 199 yards on the ground, freshman quarterback Tony Daniel's big throw in the fourth quarter off a botched field goal attempt and sophomore kicker Patrick "Patty Ice" Clarke's two field goals, including the game winner. Those can't be ignored.
But the big story was the debut of the freshman quarterback.
For weeks, the storyline has been whether Joe Licata will get the chance to start for the Bulls over incumbent starter, junior Alex Zordich. This week, with Zordich nursing bruised ribs, the City of Buffalo got its wish. It finally got to see one of its own - he starred at nearby Williamsville South High School- play close to home.
And even though the numbers weren't tremendous overall - he completed 13 of 24 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns and an interception - his poise was truly impressive on Saturday.
In general, I tend to look at body language more than numbers. After all, football is a game that is as mental as physical, especially at the quarterback position. Judging by those criteria, Licata passed the test.
He stood tall, stepped up in the pocket, never looked frightened by the mass of white jerseys swarming around him and kept his head up to find a receiver down the field after his original read was covered. When the pocket collapsed, he was willing to stay patient, not rushing throws, and waiting until the last possible second to make a decision. More often than not, it was the right one.
Despite a few missed opportunities, which will happen with any freshman passer, those throws were on point. One sticks out in my mind. A touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Fred Lee, a 21-yard laser that was, quite honestly, the best throw I've seen all season from any Buffalo quarterback. It also came at a critical time, as he was locked in a duel in the second half with Miami quarterback Zac Dysert, whom, according to many, will be playing on Sundays in his future.
For a freshman quarterback to come in and do all those things is amazing. The team that played on Saturday was slightly different than the team that has fought and scrapped in the previous seven games. He seemingly breathed new life into the Bulls.
In the post-game press conference, head coach Jeff Quinn was extremely proud of the rookie signal-caller. While Licata answered questions from the media and said all the right things and gave thanks to the older guys for having such faith in him, Quinn was off in the distance to the left of the players with the biggest smile on his face, like a proud father who witnessed his son grow up. Could it have been coincidental? Perhaps.
But he wasn't the only one who felt this way. When Oliver was asked if he had confidence in Licata going in, he quickly said he knew Licata was going to be all right because he came in last year as a redshirt.
Do we put any stock into what these guys said, or do we leave that up to Quinn and the players just saying the right things to the media? Who knows for certain if that's the case.
And it leaves us with the big question, the elephant in the room: Will Licata become the Lou Gehrig to Zordich's Wally Pipp, taking over as the quarterback even when the junior heals up?
The next few weeks will be intriguing, and for a team that will eventually finish under .500, that's not a bad thing. But that question can be answered later on. For now, just enjoy the win. It's been a while.
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