Bulls beat UConn for first time in 12 years
Defense leads Buffalo to 41-12 victory
Published: Saturday, September 28, 2013
Updated: Saturday, September 28, 2013 21:09
The football team opened the season as expected – back-to-back losses against ranked opponents and a win over an inferior FCS team. Its schedule through three games didn’t allow for much insight into the team’s identity.
On Saturday, in front of 20,952 fans at UB Stadium, the Bulls gave a better look into their potential.
Buffalo (2-2) dominated UConn (0-4), 41-12, snapping an eight-game losing streak against the Huskies. The win is also the Bulls’ fourth straight at home, the longest streak in school history.
“This was a great win,” said senior cornerback Najja Johnson. “We’ve played these guys the last four years, and to lose the first three times is tough, so it was a good win for our senior class.”
It was a substantial transition from the Bulls’ most recent game against Stony Brook two weeks ago, which featured five overtimes and a stagnant Buffalo offense. Buffalo’s 41 points scored were the most against an FBS opponent since Nov. 19, 2011, when it defeated Akron 51-10.
Senior running back Branden Oliver rushed 23 times for 90 yards (both season-highs) and a touchdown, and sophomore quarterback Joe Licata threw a career-high three touchdowns. But it was the Bulls’ defense that was the catalyst behind the victory.
“Our defense gave us a tremendous amount of opportunities offensively; they just played one heck of a football game,” said head coach Jeff Quinn. “That defensive performance was outstanding.”
The defensive backs were ball hawks and the front seven penetrated the backfield all game. The playmaking came early and often:
· On UConn’s opening drive, senior linebacker Adam Redden sacked quarterback Chandler Whitmer, forced and recovered a fumble to set up an eight-yard touchdown for the offense, giving the Bulls a 7-0 lead.
· Late in the first quarter, Johnson returned an interception for a touchdown – the first of his career; the Bulls went ahead 14-3.
· After a lengthy Huskies drive, senior defensive lineman Beau Bachtelle recorded an eight-yard sack on third down to force a UConn field goal.
· Senior defensive end Colby Way blocked a field goal in the second quarter. Johnson recovered it and returned it for 26 yards. The Bulls’ offense capitalized on the turnover and scored to take a 21-6 lead.
· Late in the third, as the Bulls led 31-12, junior cornerback Cortney Lester recorded an interception, which led to a UB field goal.
· Sophomore Nick Gilbo recorded his first career interception early in the fourth quarter.
By the game’s end, the Bulls’ defense had forced four turnovers and compiled five sacks and nine tackles for loss. In the last two games, the defense has allowed just two touchdowns in regulation.
“Our defense loves being on the field,” Redden said. “It doesn’t matter what situation or where the ball is at. We love making plays for the team.”
Senior linebacker Khalil Mack had eight tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss – he is now 13.5 shy of tying the all-time NCAA career record. Redden and Bachtelle each had two sacks.
While the defense thrived early to gain some momentum, the offense had totaled just one yard by the first quarter’s end. The second quarter was a different story, as the Buffalo ‘O’ came out and scored a touchdown on back-to-back drives.
The Bulls established the run early, something they have struggled with this season. They ran the ball 41 times and attempted just 20 passes.
“We controlled the ball,” Licata said. “It’s great to turn around and hand the ball to [Oliver]. Our running game [opened up the long passes]. They were worried about [our backs] running the ball, so they gave us some windows to throw the ball.”
Licata threw for 177 yards on just 10 completions and had touchdowns of 22 and 36 yards.
Senior wide receivers Alex Neutz and Fred Lee each caught a touchdown pass, and freshman Mason Schrek had his first career touchdown reception in the first quarter.
Junior kicker Patrick Clarke nailed two field goals, including a career-long 50-yarder in the third quarter.
“We’re not moving backward; we’re heading forward,” Quinn said. “[The players] were very pleased with the win. They celebrate and they were deserving of it but they also understand it’s this game, this moment. Now it’s moving on to the next one.”
The Bulls will look to continue their four-game home win streak next week, as they open up Mid-American Conference play in their homecoming game against Eastern Michigan (1-3, 0-1 MAC). Kickoff is set for noon.