Quick strikes carry Bulls past Eastern Michigan - The Buffalo News

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Quick strikes carry Bulls past Eastern Michigan

In the lexicon of UB coach Jeff Quinn the letters RKB stand for “Right Kind of Bull,” as in a player with characteristics that fit ideally into the program. But RKB serves another function these days in that its captures the essence of UB’s last two starts: Real King-sized Blowouts.”

The Bulls were at it again Saturday afternoon on Homecoming at UB Stadium. The offense hummed, the defense sizzled, the special teams were electric. And a 42-14 rout of Eastern Michigan would have seemed like a landmark victory if the same scene hadn’t played out just one week before.

Consider what was wrought by the outcome of Saturday’s Mid-American Conference opener in front of 23,062 delighted fans:

• 40 or more points in consecutive games for the first time since 1981.

• A first-ever win over Eastern Michigan.

• The first five-game home winning streak since 1983.

• The first three-game overall win streak since the championship season of 2008.

• The best five-game start (3-2) of the modern era (1999).

• The first time over .500 in the MAC since the opening conference game of 2010.

What’s gone right? What hasn’t? The offense rolled up 452 yards, produced a 99-yard touchdown drive and converted 7 of 13 third downs against an opponent that had excelled in that department. The defense came up with three more turnovers, making it 10 in the last three games, and for the second straight week set up an early short-field touchdown. And whereas the special teams last week got two long field goals from Patrick Clarke, this time the glory belonged to Devin Campbell, who went 96 yards for UB’s first kick return touchdown since 2008.

The most encouraging sign of all came from the run game. Steady improvement finally transformed into excellence. Branden Oliver busted out for a season-high 150 yards and two touchdowns as the Bulls piled up 228 on the ground. Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Licata went 15 of 22 for 224 yards and a touchdown and spread completions among six receivers.

The offense has found a fluidity under coordinator Alex Wood and Quinn. Consider that true freshman wideout Boise Ross, who burned his redshirt just last week, took a reverse 10 yards for a key first down on UB’s second touchdown drive.

“We’ve got a lot of playmakers on this offense,” Licata said. “Coach Wood and Coach Quinn do a great job in distributing that. My job’s pretty easy. I just got to get the ball to different playmakers.”

“I think our coaching staff does a tremendous job getting the good ones out there, playing the good ones,” Quinn said. ‘When you got a lot of good ones, play them all and get them involved in the game plan. And it makes for morale. Let’s face it. Kids know they’re going to get in the game. They know they’re part of the game plan. And they’re excited about that.”

Statistics say Eastern Michigan has one of the better third-down defenses in the nation. The Eagles held Penn State to one conversion in 10 attempts. Rutgers converted just one of eight. Given those numbers one wondered what UB had in store when it faced third-and-4 from its own 40 on its first offensive possession.

But there was no reaching into a bag of tricks, no attempt made to fool the opposition. UB opted to impose its will by running Oliver off the right side, and once he picked up the first down he just kept going. The 60-yard touchdown made for his longest run of the season by 39 yards and propelled him on the way to a 107-yard first half – the first 100-yard game of his senior season and his 13th overall, tying Anthony Swan’s school mark.

UB went three-and-out on its second series but was ideally set up by the defense on its third. Linebacker Jake Stockman knocked the ball free from Eagles running back Bronson Hill and recovered at the Eagles 16. Oliver went over from the 2 five plays later, marking the second straight game that the defense has gifted the offense a first-quarter TD drive of less than 20 yards.

“It was a blitz call, and we had just recently drawn up that blitz based on what they do and what we had done previously to kind of throw a curveball,” Stockman said. “It worked out great because I kind of came free under the tight end, the ball was on my side and as I was going down I ripped through and the ball came out.”

There was some curious officiating on the day, and UB was the beneficiary on a 99-yard touchdown drive that pushed the lead to 21-0 early in the second quarter. Licata threw incomplete on first-and-10 from the 1, and it took wideout Alex Neutz all he could muster to prevent Ja’Ron Gillespie from intercepting the underthrown ball. Neutz figured to get flagged for offensive interference. Instead, the call went the other way, Licata and Neutz connected for 40 yards a short time later and the Bulls marched downfield to score on a Licata fourth-down sneak from the 1.

Eastern Michigan closed within 21-7 – for a matter of seconds. Devin Campbell returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, breaking an early arm tackle and running free the rest of the way.

Up by 28-7 at half, UB needed one second-half series to make it 35-7 as Campbell went in from the 1 to cap a 69-yard march. UB’s final TD came late in the third quarter on a 27-yard connection between Licata and Neutz (five catches, 104 yards).

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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