Faster than lightning
Bulls shut down potent Kent State offense, become bowl eligible for first time since 2008
Published: Saturday, October 26, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 27, 2013 18:10
At the 14:27 mark in the second quarter of Saturday’s game against Kent State, the Bulls found themselves in an unfamiliar position.
For the first time this season, they were losing to a conference opponent.
But the Flashes’ lead didn’t last for long.
The Bulls’ next drive lasted just 1:24 and culminated in a Branden Oliver touchdown – his first of four, a UB Division 1A record.
Those were the first of 28 unanswered points the Bulls (6-2, 4-0 Mid-American Conference) scored en route to a 41-21 victory over Kent State (2-7, 1-4 MAC) in front of a crowd of 14,197 at Dix Stadium in Kent, Ohio. It was the Bulls’ sixth straight victory and the win made them bowl eligible for the first time since 2008.
“It really was a full team victory today,” said sophomore quarterback Joe Licata. “Our defense stepped up and played amazing. Our special teams stepped up and played very well and our offense was clicking today.”
Despite the lopsided score, Kent State gained momentum late in the third quarter. After taking a 34-7 lead with 4:55 left in the third quarter, the Bulls allowed touchdowns on back-to-back possessions, which brought the Flashes within two scores at 34-21.
But the offense found its groove again through Licata’s second touchdown pass of the night, to junior wide receiver Devon Hughes, which put the Bulls back up by 20.
The defense returned to form after allowing touchdowns on back-to-back possessions. The Flashes’ last two drives totaled less than three minutes combined time of possession. One ended with a punt, the other on a turnover on downs.
“Our defense, who is the No. 1 defense in this league, was not going to be denied,” said head coach Jeff Quinn.
Oliver was dominant again on Saturday, rushing for 185 yards – his 16th career 100-yard rushing game. He also rushed for a career-high and Division 1A school record four touchdowns. He has rushed for over 100 yards in every conference game so far this season.
At the end of the second quarter, Oliver delivered a signature moment.
After senior linebacker Khalil Mack intercepted quarterback Colin Reardon’s pass at Buffalo’s 9-yard line and returned it into Kent State territory, the Bulls moved the ball to Kent State’s 17-yard line.
After two incomplete passes to the end zone intended for senior receiver Alex Neutz, the Bulls faced a 3rd and 10.
Oliver took a handoff and went down the left sideline. He gained the first down and it looked like he would be forced out of bounds short of the end zone. Instead, he put his shoulder into cornerback Darius Polk and carried him into the end zone with him.
“I feel like I’m way better than I was two years ago,” Oliver said. “Two years ago was a good year, but this year is going to be an even better year because of the wins.”
Licata had a career day as well, throwing for two touchdowns and tying a career high with 285 passing yards.
After leaving the game with a concussion last week, Neutz was back on the field Saturday. He finished the game with three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. Senior receiver Fred Lee had six catches for 72 yards.
The defense wasn’t as stingy as it has been the last few weeks, allowing a touchdown for the first time since Oct. 5, but it was able to hold arguably the most explosive player in the conference – running back Dri Archer – to only 35 yards rushing and three receptions for 35 yards.
The Thunder of the East Marching Band traveled to the game along with three buses of students, giving the Bulls a distinct crowd advantage over the meager Kent State fan section.
Bowling Green (5-3, 3-1 MAC) lost to Toledo (5-3, 3-1 MAC) on Saturday, leaving Buffalo as the only team with an undefeated conference record in the East division and in sole possession of first place.
“We did what we had to do in the beginning of the season,” Neutz said. “We went 5-0. And now we have [beat] Kent State, who won a MAC East championship last year, and here we are. We beat them by 20 points. People will start saying we’re real.”
Mack also broke the school record for sacks in a career. He now has 25.
It was not all good news for the Bulls on Saturday, however, as senior linebacker/safety and reigning MAC East Defensive Player of the Week Adam Redden did not play the second half with a knee injury. He stood on the sidelines on crutches.
The Bulls will now move to the more difficult part of their schedule, as they host Ohio (6-2, 3-1 MAC) on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at UB Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.