FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – At some point, the levee had to break.
Despite playing three quality quarters, the UMass football team buckled in the trenches against a bigger and deeper Buffalo squad. UMass’ patchwork offensive line was exposed against a variety of all-in blitzes, and the defensive line, which had been playing bend-but-don’t-break ball, finally snapped.
In the end, the Bulls came back from a 13-0 halftime deficit to defeat the Minutemen 29-19.
Buffalo scored two unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The first was a short pass from redshirt freshman Brian Licata to Alex Neutz, the Bulls’ standout wide receiver, to give Buffalo a 22-19 lead. The Bulls finished off the afternoon with a 12-yard touchdown run from Brandon Murie. Murie, who started at tailback in place of Branden Oliver, finished the game with 90 yards.
Murie and Rashad Jean gashed the UMass defense throughout the fourth quarter, running clock while eating four-to-five yards a play.
“At that point in the game, I really felt that they had been grinded down by Buffalo’s running game,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “If we had done better on offense, we wouldn’t have been on the field as much, and certainly they would have had more juice at the end of the game when we needed them to.”
The Bulls held UMass to 264 yards of offense and shut the door on the Minuteman running game. Mike Cox and Jordan Broadnax combined for 60 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Mike Wegzyn, who had 215 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception, was constantly under duress in the second half. The redshirt freshman quarterback was sacked eight times.
A major part of the problem was UMass’ offensive line, which was without the services of right tackle Anthony Dima and left guard Michael Boland, both of whom were out with injuries. Back in the lineup were Al Leneus, a true freshman walkon defensive line convert, and Matt Sparks, a true freshman that has seen ample playing time this season.
“We’ve been down this road almost every single week, where we’re playing with new guys,” Molnar said. “Anthony Dima is unquestionably playing the best on our offensive line, at least through the past three or four weeks. To lose your best offensive lineman, when you don’t have many good ones, was a blow to our team.
“In the first half they weren’t able to capitalize on it as well, but then they brought a little bit more pressure in the second half. (They did) things that normally we would be able to handle but when you’ve got guys who just aren’t equipped it certainly started to show.”
Buffalo changed the momentum of the game out of the gates in the second half. After stalling UMass’ offense, Buffalo’s Kyn Minniefield returned a blocked Colter Johnson punt for a touchdown, putting the score at 13-7. The Minutemen stormed back and scored on a three-yard run from Cox. However, a miscue on the ensuing PAT left holder Jeff Strait stranded in the backfield where he was gobbled up by Buffalo tacklers.
“The momentum of the game dramatically shifted at that time, and we gave them life. We never really recouped from that point forward,” Molnar said about the blocked punt and missed PAT.
During the first half, UMass had trouble completing drives. Blake Lucas, UMass’ true freshman placekicker, hit field goals of 39 and 32 yards when the Minutemen stalled in Buffalo territory. UMass scored its first touchdown on a 14-yard pass to tight end Rob Blanchflower with 56 seconds left in the half. Molnar acknowledged that the Minutemen left some points on the field.
“I knew they would come back to haunt us, they always do,” he said.