Massachusetts (1-5) at Buffalo (4-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 19, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: UB Stadium (24,000) -- Buffalo, New York. Television: Time Warner Cable. Home Record: UMass 1-2, Buffalo 3-0. Away Record: UMass 0-3, Buffalo 1-2. Neutral Record: UMass 0-0, Buffalo 0-0. Conference Record: UMass 1-1, Buffalo 2-0. Series Record: Series is tied, 5-5.
GAME NOTES: The Massachusetts Minutemen will be seeking their second win in a row as they crash into the red-hot Buffalo Bulls for a Mid-American Conference bout at UB Stadium.
Coach Charley Molnar improved his career record to 2-16 last week as his Minutemen scored 10 unanswered points en route to a 17-10 decision over Miami- Ohio at Gillette Stadium. UMass had been outscored by an average of 24.6 points per game in its first five games of the season. The victory put the Minutemen in a tie for third place in the East Division standings. UMass has lost nine of its last 10 away games dating back to 2012.
The Bulls are coming off of a convincing, 33-0 shutout victory over Western Michigan at Waldo Stadium. The win was the fourth in a row and improved their MAC record to 2-0 for the first time in history. Coach Jeff Quinn's squad began the season with lopsided losses at Ohio State (40-20) and Baylor (70-13), but has since recovered to outscore its last three opponents, 116-26. In addition to its four-game overall winning streak, Buffalo has won its last five games at UB Stadium.
UMass and Buffalo began playing one another when both were members of the FCS. The Bulls defeated the Minutemen, 29-19, last season at Gillette Stadium to even the all-time series at five wins per side.
The Minutemen have struggled offensively throughout their 1-5 campaign. They began the season with a shutout loss at Wisconsin, scored only 14 points in a loss to Maine of the FCS and had been held to seven points in three straight games prior to the win over Miami. Molnar had been giving both of his quarterbacks a fair share of snaps under center, but A.J. Doyle took full command of the offense versus the RedHawks. The sophomore signal caller completed 19-of-35 attempts for 249 yards and two touchdowns as UMass established new season-highs with 376 yards of total offense and 23 first downs.
Doyle was also picked off twice, giving him four touchdowns through the air and the same number of interceptions on the campaign. Senior tight end Rob Branchflower made five receptions for a season-high 98 yards including his first touchdown catch of the year versus Miami. Branchflower has been effective since making his 2013 debut three games ago, which has taken pressure off of the team's leading target in the aerial attack, Tajae Sharpe. The sophomore wideout has tallied 35 receptions for 331 yards and half of the team's six touchdown catches. UMass has potential in its backfield with freshman Stacey Bedell and Jamal Wilson splitting the carries, however the team is ranked 106th nationally in rushing offense at 116.2 yards per game.
The Minutemen are coming off of their best defensive showing of the season. After surrendering averages of 484.4 ypg and 31.6 ppg through their first five games, Miami finished with only 290 yards of total offense and 10 points. UMass forced three turnovers while Stanley Andre led all players with a career-high 14 tackles. The strong performance was a step in the right direction, however it also came against one of the weakest offenses in the FBS.
The Bulls will provide a much tougher challenge with sophomore field general Joe Licata spearheading a very controlled attack. They are second in the nation in turnover margin (1.7) and have posted an average of 35.5 ppg during the span of their winning streak. Licata improved to 7-3 as a starter last week as he completed 11-of-21 pass attempts for 124 yards and three touchdowns. Senior tailback Branden Oliver rushed 19 times for 139 yards to make it two games in a row with at least 100 yards on the ground.
Alex Neutz made a two-yard touchdown reception at WMU, but made only one other catch for seven yards. The 6-foot-3 senior wideout is still among the MAC leaders with averages of 5.7 catches and 87.8 receiving yards per game and is second in the conference with six touchdown grabs.
The UB defense continued to dominate last week as it pitched the first road shutout for the program since 1965 and held the Broncos to only 202 total yards. WMU turned the ball over three times and gained only 38 rushing yards. Khalil Mack finished with six tackles, 1.5 for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Mack is in pursuit of the NCAA career records for both forced fumbles and tackles for loss. He now has 12 forced fumbles, three shy of the record, and he is 11 tackles for loss behind former WMU star Jason Babin's FBS standard of 75 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
With Mack anchoring the defensive unit, Buffalo has registered 10 interceptions and six fumble recoveries on the season, giving it the most takeaways of any MAC school. The Bulls have also registered a conference-high 21 sacks for 134 lost yards in six games.
UMass appears to be gaining ground on some of its conference rivals, however Buffalo is also on the rise. The Bulls have one of the league's elite players in Mack, who will create plenty of problems for the turnover-prone Doyle. Molnar's team will have no chance if it allows Oliver to get into a rhythm. Buffalo is one of just two teams without a loss in the East Division, making each week a must win to prevent Bowling Green from pulling away.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Buffalo 31, Massachusetts 6
10/16 10:34:10 ET