Led by defense, Bulls look for fifth straight win
UMass to take on formidable challenge: scoring on Buffalo ‘D’
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013 17:10
The football team faces Massachusetts on Saturday under similar conditions to when the teams faced off last year – the Bulls are hot, bearing a win streak. This season, however, the Bulls are looking toward a potential Mid-American Conference Championship, rather than salvaging an already lost season.
The Bulls (4-2, 2-0 MAC) return to UB Stadium looking to stretch their win streak to five games when they take on the Minutemen (1-5, 1-1 MAC). UMass is fresh off just its second MAC victory since joining the conference last season.
Buffalo has outscored its opponents 116-26 in its last three contests. The Bulls’ defense has been dominant, forcing at least three turnovers in the last four games (14 total).
“Honestly, our defense is the toughest defense I’ve ever played against,” said senior wide receiver Fred Lee. “I’ll look at the tape and be like, ‘I don’t know if I want to play against our defense.’”
The turnovers have allowed the Bulls’ offense to score via advantageous field position. Buffalo’s offensive drives have begun with the ball in its opponent’s territory eight times in 39 possessions over the past three games. In more than half of their possessions (20 of 39), the Bulls have started a drive at their own 35-yard line or better.
“Our defense just continues to create opportunities for our offense and then our offense feels a big part of that responsibility to put that ball into the end zone,” said head coach Jeff Quinn.
The Minutemen defeated Miami Ohio (0-6, 0-2 MAC) 17-10 last Saturday. UMass sophomore quarterback A.J. Doyle had his best game of the season, racking up 249 passing yards and two touchdowns. His favorite target in the victory was senior tight end Rob Blanchflower, who had five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore wide receiver Tajae Sharpe has been the team’s most consistent vertical threat with 35 receptions for 331 yards and three touchdowns this season.
The Bulls’ pass rush – led by seniors Khalil Mack and Colby Way – has caused nightmares for opponents all season. UMass, however, has been able to contain powerful pass rushes all year, allowing just four sacks despite facing a difficult schedule.
Buffalo has seen a huge spike in attendance this season – with each of the first three home games totaling at least 20,000 fans for the first time in UB Stadium history. The Bulls have responded the improved environment, winningtheir first three home games of the season and the last five at home dating back to last season.
Lee has noticed the difference playing at UB Stadium this season versus years past.
“It’s amazing [seeing the stadium so crowded],” Lee said. “I can remember some games when our parents were the only people at the games and a few [members of the] media.”
Way was awarded MAC East Defensive Player of the Week after his three-sack performance last Saturday, which helped Buffalo to record its first road shutout (33-0 over Western Michigan) since 1965.
Two seniors, wide receiver Alex Neutz and running back Branden Oliver, both achieved ‘firsts’ for Buffalo football last week. Oliver became the first UB running back to record 14 100-yard games in a career and Neutz became the first receiver to catch a touchdown in each of the first six games of the season.
“Years ago, we knew this day was coming,” Lee said of Buffalo’s success. “We didn’t quite know when, but we knew it was coming.”
The pregame festivities begin at 1:30 p.m., with a concert from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in the stadium parking lot. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at UB Stadium, and the game will air on ESPN3.
Predictions: Buffalo (-21) vs. UMass
Aaron Mansfield @aaroncmansfield (4-2): Buffalo – I’m going to go with the Bulls blowing out lowly teams until they give me reason not to.
Owen O’Brien @owenobri (5-1):Buffalo – I would be surprised if UMass finds the end zone once. For this reason, I’m taking the Bulls.
Ben Tarhan @BenTarhan (3-3): Buffalo – UMass isn’t much better than Western Michigan, and the Bulls are at home this time.
Jon Gagnon @jgags15 (4-2): Buffalo – The Bulls would have covered this spread in their last three games and all those teams were better than UMass.