There were signs of the old Branden Oliver returning Saturday as the senior tailback rushed for 90 yards and scored a touchdown in the University at Buffalo’s 41-12 win over Connecticut.
Oliver has been plagued by injuries this season — not to mention defenses that are game-planned to stop him. He missed the Bulls game two weeks ago against Stony Brook with a knee injury after running for 105 yards in losses at Ohio State and Baylor.
“It felt great out there, man. It felt like I didn’t lose a step or anything,” Oliver said. “My elusiveness is back, my speed.”
After Oliver scored on a 5-yard run in the second quarter, the first one to the end zone celebration was quarterback Joe Licata.
“It’s great to turn around and hand the ball off to Bo Oliver,” Licata said. “After he scored I walked over and said, ‘It’s awesome to turn around and hand you the ball because I missed it.’ He’s a great player.”
The running game opened opportunities for the pass and Licata completed 10 of 19 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns.
“Our offensive line did a great job,” Licata said. “They were worried about Bo, James Potts, Devin Campbell, those guys running the ball, and it gave us some windows to throw the ball and guys like Freddie Lee made some plays.”
Ball security was a huge emphasis in practice this week after UConn nearly knocked off Michigan last week because of turnovers. But UB committed just one turnover, an interception by Licata in the third quarter.
“That was a bad decision on my part, those are decisions I can’t keep making. I can’t keep turning the ball over,” Licata said. “I’m going to keep working on that because ball security is the most important thing and you can’t score unless you have the ball.”
Licata tried a deep pass to John Dunmore which was picked off by safety Obi Melifonwu. The Bulls were leading, 34-12, at the time.
“We got a little greedy,” Quinn said. “I really wanted to take a shot down field.”
And they did later in the fourth quarter when Licata hit Fred Lee down the right sideline for a 36-yard touchdown.
“That’s really the kind of opportunity I want our kids to understand, we’re not going to hold back, we’re going to continue to try to score and make plays down the field,” Quinn said. “That one maybe I could have back, but our defense responded and they went three and out.”
UConn was a plus-3 in turnover margin and in its 24-21 loss to Michigan last weekend, the Huskies forced four turnovers — two interceptions and two fumbles — and limited the Wolverines to fewer than 300 yards of total offense.
It took Warde Manuel several minutes to walk from his car to UB Stadium. It was a chance for friends and acquaintances of the former UB athletic director to say hello and he was greeted warmly.
Manuel, now at UConn, said it was weird returning to his old school but those feelings subsided once the game started.
“Obviously my teams have changed but when the ball is kicked, it’s another game,” said Manuel, who was the AD for the Bulls from 2005-2012. “It was good to see old friends and colleagues from here and get a chance to do that.”
One thing hasn’t changed about Manuel: his distaste for losing, and the Huskies are now 0-4 and could be looking at a winless season.
“You’ve been around me for a long time and you know I hate to lose,” said Manuel after Saturday’s game. “It’s not a good time.”
The margin of victory was shocking because UConn has had its way with UB over the years. The Bulls lost their last eight meetings against the Huskies dating back to 2002, although UConn narrowly won at Rentschler Field last season, 24-17.
“It feels good to finally beat UConn after three years of trying and being close and we really put it together for a team win,” UB wideout Fred Lee said. “It was an exciting game of football.”
Both teams entered FBS in 1999.
“We all watched last Saturday what they did with Michigan and they could have easily come out of that game with a win,” Quinn said. “We knew this team, our football team here, has played this opponent quite well in the past. We just weren’t able to secure that victory and I really challenged our kids to respond from Play One to Play Last.”
Eight-year-old Breana Tepper, the granddaughter of UB defensive coordinator Lou Tepper, sang the National Anthem, which was a nice surprise for Tepper.
Breana received a hug and a kiss from grandpa and posed for a picture.
Tailback Anthone Taylor was suspended for Saturday’s game for a violation of team rules. Taylor, the team’s leading rusher coming into the game, is expected to return for Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan. … True freshman wide receiver Boise Ross appeared for the first time this season so he will not redshirt. Ross was targeted once but the pass was overthrown. … Sophomore Robert Blodgett started at right guard in place of junior Dillon Guy, who missed the game with an ankle injury. … This was the Bulls’ fourth consecutive win at UB Stadium, the longest home win streak since moving up to the FBS ranks. … The 41 points were the most ever scored by UB against UConn. … This is the first time the Bulls have beaten the Huskies since 2001, which was former coach Jim Hofher’s first year at UB. … Punter Tyler Grassman kicked off for the first time this season and had six touchbacks, although two kicks went out of bounds for penalties.