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UB offensive line takes a final bow

AMHERST, Mass. – The most experienced unit on the University at Buffalo football team ends a successful two-year run today when the Bulls close their season at the University of Massachusetts.

UB’s offensive line has been one of the bright spots of the program the past two seasons. The unit paved the way for Bo Oliver’s school-record rushing season and a bowl appearance last year. With all five starters back, the big men up front have helped the UB offense rank fourth in the Mid-American Conference in points and sixth in yards.

UB has a chance to set per-game single-season records in both those categories with a good showing in today’s 1 p.m. game at McGuirk Stadium. The Bulls are averaging 31.4 points and 427 yards, both of which would be best in the school’s 16-year Football Bowl Subdivision era.

“Those guys are the heart and soul of this team, I believe,” said UB receiver Devon Hughes. “I think we had great experience, and those guys were very consistent. They’ve done a phenomenal job.”

Three offensive linemen are playing their final games. Left guard Andre Davis, a Cheektowaga High product, has started all 47 games of his UB career. Center Trevor Sales has started 35 games. Left tackle Jake Silas has started 23. Davis arguably is the top contender of the group for all-conference honors. Both he and Silas have drawn interest from NFL scouts.

The right side of the line will be back next season. Junior right guard Robert Blodgett (Honeoye Falls) and junior right tackle John Kling (Depew) both will start their 17th games today.

“I think those guys have done a good job,” said UB interim head coach Alex Wood. “They’ve played well together. We’ve done good in pass protection. I think they’ve done a good job of creating seams for our running back.”

“I think the biggest thing is from me to the left side over, we’re all seniors,” said Sales, “and Bob and Kling are both juniors. That’s a big part of what has happened. Andre has started for four years, me for three and Jake for two. That’s a lot of experience on the line. That makes a big difference.”

There were questions about the UB running game after Oliver graduated to the NFL. UB averaged 167 rushing yards a game last season.

This year’s average: 167 a game. Junior running back Anthone Taylor ranks third in the MAC with 1,166 rushing yards. The O-line loves blocking for Taylor because he plays a physical style.

“I think he works really well in space,” Davis said. “Once he’s in space, he can lower his shoulder or run around you. That’s the best part about him, I think. He’s not afraid to hit someone.”

The run usually has set up the pass for the Bulls. In pass protection, UB ranks fourth, with 15 sacks allowed. Quarterback Joe Licata’s good pocket presence helps keep sacks down.

The line plays sound technique. Sales and Blodgett have committed just one penalty each in 10 games. (Sales had a personal foul, Blodgett a hold.) Davis has only two. The line has only four combined false starts.

“It’s about five guys – and you add the tight end, the fullback – all seven guys working as one,” said offensive line coach Adam Shorter.

UB’s offense has played seven good-to-great games and three bad ones (the losses to Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Ohio).

“We just didn’t come out and execute those games, point blank,” Davis said.

Nevertheless, the O-line takes satisfaction in the numbers Licata, Taylor and the other skill players have put up.

Setting those school per-game records would be nice.

“Those are stats I had no clue about,” Sales said. “Just the way this season has gone, there’s been ups and downs. So thinking about the stats is putting that before the team. That’s not something we really do around here. But at the same time, hearing those stats is awesome.”