FACTS & STATS: Site: McGuirk Stadium (17,000) — Amherst, Massachusetts.
Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Buffalo 4-2, Massachusetts 2-3. Away
Record: Buffalo 0-4, Massachusetts 1-5. Neutral Record: Buffalo 0-0,
Massachusetts 0-0. Conference Record: Buffalo 2-4, Massachusetts 3-4. Series
Record: Buffalo leads, 6-5.
GAME NOTES: As the regular season in the Mid-American Conference winds down,
the Buffalo Bulls will travel to take on the Massachusetts Minutemen in a
regular-season finale at McGuirk Stadium.
Buffalo put a stop to a four-game losing skid with a win last week against
Akron, 55-24. It was a statement win for the Bulls, who fired coach Jeff Quinn
mid-season and are no longer eligible for a bowl game. The team had last
week’s game against Kent State canceled due to inclement weather.
UMass isn’t eligible for a bowl either, though the Minutemen took several
steps forward this season. The team last played against Akron on Nov. 18,
dropping the contest, 30-6.
Buffalo leads the all-time series with UMass by a very slim 6-5 margin. The
series began back in 1964 when the two teams were members of Division I-AA
(today’s FCS), and has continued to today’s MAC race.
It’s been somewhat of a surprising down year for Buffalo, which returned
several key members from last season’s strong team. Quarterback Joe Licata is
the biggest name for the Bulls to come back after he led the team under center
in 2013. He’s passed for 2,392 yards and 25 touchdowns this season against 11
interceptions, and has helped his Bulls average 31.4 ppg.
The team lost Branden Oliver in the offseason to the NFL, so Anthone Taylor
has needed to step up, and did he ever. The running back has gained 1,166
yards and scored 10 times on the ground this season, and that includes several
very sub-par contests in recent weeks. His 116.6 rushing ypg average helps UB
gain 427.2 offensive ypg.
Licata has utilized a bevy of weapons this season in the passing game, most
notably Ron Willoughby, who has caught a team-high 45 passes for 681 yards and
eight touchdowns. Devon Hughes (five receiving scores) and Matt Weiser (four
touchdowns) are also big names in the Buffalo passing game.
Since the loss of Khalil Mack to the NFL, the Buffalo defense has been
somewhat directionless this season. The team is allowing 32.6 ppg to
opponents, and 404.5 offensive ypg in the 10 games played. Even with the win
over Akron, Buffalo hasn’t held an opponent to under 20 points in a single
game since a 36-7 win over FCS challenger Norfolk State.
Lee Skinner and Adam Redden have taken over the leadership roles, and have
done well with them for the most part. Skinner leads the team in tackles with
86 on the season, adding in 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Redden has
exploded for 70 tackles and 14 tackles for loss plus six sacks – both team
highs. He’s also forced four fumbles and recovered two of them in 10 games.
The two of them will need to be mindful of UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel,
if he suits up on Friday.
Frohnapfel didn’t play in the team’s Nov. 18 loss to Akron due to injury, and
it’s unclear whether the signal caller will be ready to go in the season
finale or not. If he does play, Frohnapfel brings so much to the table
offensively, including 3,345 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. He’s the
dominant reason the Minutemen average 27.9 ppg this season.
The team has leaned a bit more on the running game since the emergence of
Shadrach Abrokwah, who has a team-best 478 rushing yards and seven touchdowns
in just seven games played. Lorenzo Woodley has been a nice change-of-pace
back as well, rushing for 404 yards and five scores.
The receiving game has finally come on strong, and Frohnapfel should be
pleased with the development of Tajae Sharpe (1,245 yards, five touchdowns)
and Jean Sifrin (621 yards, six touchdowns). Rodney Mills has also caught five
scores, and Jalen Williams has contributed four touchdown receptions in 10
Defense was a big problem for the Minutemen at the start of the season, when
the team started 0-6 and didn’t allow fewer than 30 points to an opponent. But
since then, the UMass defenders have stepped up and limited three opponents to
17 points or less in the team’s three wins. The Minutemen have also registered
17 takeaways in 11 games played.
Both Jovan Santos-Knox and Stanley Andre have more than 100 tackles this
season, with Santos-Knox leading the charge at 129 stops and Andre not very
far behind (111). Santos-Knox has notched 8.5 tackles for loss with two sacks
and five pass breakups, and Andre has three pass breakups with a fumble
recovery. UMass will have to get plenty of pressure on Licata and Taylor in
the backfield if the Minutemen want to contain the strong Buffalo offense.
If Frohnapfel plays in this contest, the Minutemen have a fighting chance to
go out with a win in 2014. But if not, the Bulls should be able to pick up the
road victory with ease. Even still, Buffalo has an offensive advantage with a
100 percent healthy Licata and Taylor.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Buffalo 34, Massachusetts 28