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Cutting down on turnovers is top priority for Bulls

The University at Buffalo is 1-2 and that much was to be expected. Three games into the season the Bulls were smacked around by Ohio State and Baylor and beat Stony Brook in five overtimes in their home opener.

But here’s the rub: They could easily be 0-3 with a loss against a Stony Brook team that was crushed by Villanova last week by 29 points.

Turnovers played a huge role in potentially a devastating loss and while there are several areas of concern for Saturday’s game against winless Connecticut, the biggest has to be avoiding turnovers.

The Bulls had only one turnover each against Ohio State and Baylor, but had three against the Seawolves. Quarterback Joe Licata had two interceptions while tailback Anthone Taylor had a fumble.

“I didn’t do a great job taking care of the ball and I had two turnovers but I should have had six picks if you watch the film,” Licata said. “Throwaways are going to be big – when I get pressure throw the ball away – and not try and make a play. This isn’t high school anymore.”

In the third overtime and the game tied at 20, Licata and Taylor had a bad exchange and the fumble was recovered by Stony Brook on the 18. Taylor redeemed himself, scoring the winner in the fifth OT.

“I was disappointed in the fact that we had some key turnovers in the game against Stony Brook – those things are something that is fundamental football,” UB coach Jeff Quinn said. “Our ball handlers have to take great care of the ball and great decision making is part of that. It’s always a main emphasis for us.”

While Buffalo is even in turnover margin, limiting mistakes has been a focus in practice this week as it prepares for a Huskies team that feasts on takeaways.

UConn is a plus-3 in turnover margin and in their 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. UConn also sacked Devin Gardner three times.

“That’s what kept them so close in that game,” Quinn said. “We need to protect and value the ball.”

But how much should one read into UConn’s ability to create turnovers, especially against a team like Michigan that is downright philanthropic when it comes to giveaways? Michigan is minus-5 in turnover margin this year and ranks 112th nationally.

Since a 58-0 laugher over Minnesota in 2011, the Wolverines have committed at least one turnover in 25 consecutive games.

Gardner is tied for the most interceptions in the Football Bowl Subdivision with eight and has been picked off at least once in all nine of his career starts. The Wolverines have committed 61 turnovers during Brady Hoke’s 30 games as head coach.

While it appears the Huskies aren’t as takeaway savvy as it seems, Licata disagrees.

“They’re aggressive,” he said. “They play a lot of Cover 1 and they pressure the quarterback so he can make mistakes. It really is their system.”

The Huskies have just three sacks but the system is primarily built to create havoc and turnovers and four players have an interception each.

Four different Connecticut players have also registered a forced fumble.

The linebackers are active led by Yawin Smallwood while safety Obi Melifonwu is the team’s second leading tackler and safety Ty-Meer Brown has recovered two fumbles. UConn brings pressure up the middle with tackles Julian Campenni and Shamar Stephen.

Said Licata: “We can’t give them a little pep rally during the game and we have to take care of the ball. You can only score when you have the ball so that’s why we have to take good care of it.”