University at Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata was the master of his universe to open the Bulls’ college football season Saturday.
The fact Licata looked good in UB’s 51-14 rout of lower-division Albany was no news.
But the way Licata handled the new scheme of coach Lance Leipold and coordinator Andy Kotelnicki should make UB fans giddy about the prospects for this season.
How did UB’s offense look different from last year’s 32-points-per-game attack? Leipold is taking full advantage of Licata’s experience by putting a ton of “married plays” in the senior QB’s hands.
In a married play, it’s up to Licata to read the defense and either hand off or throw.
UB’s first touchdown was a perfect example. Licata took a shotgun snap from the Albany 9 and was about to put the ball in the belly of running back Anthone Taylor. But Licata saw the weak-side linebacker playing run. Whoop. The ball disappeared from Taylor’s grasp and Licata had a wide-open window through which to throw a 9-yard slant TD pass to Marcus McGill.
“It’s the key to the offense,” Leipold said. “Andy says don’t let a bad call become a bad play. That’s where the married plays hopefully give you those run-pass options. It gives the best option with what the defense is giving you.”
Licata hit 20 of 26 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns in just 2½ quarters. He was loath to analyze his options afterward. Did his read of the “Will” linebacker make the TD easy?
“I can’t tell you that,” the senior from Williamsville South smiled. “I don’t know. I know Marcus caught a touchdown. I don’t know how it happened, though.”
Saturday’s game was Licata’s 29th start. His ability to read defenses is a gift. Leipold knows it.
“You’ve got to depend on that person,” Leipold said. “It’s not just on game day. It starts on Mondays. It’s film preparation. It’s understanding so many things we’re putting on him.
“He’s just so calm,” Leipold said. “He’s got such a good feel. I can’t recall really a bad throw. He’s smart with the football and everything you want out of your senior quarterback and leader.”
UB’s second scoring drive was keyed by a 26-yard Licata pass to Ron Willoughby. Again, he pulled the ball out of Taylor’s belly upon seeing the defense keying the run.
Tight end Mason Schreck burned Albany on married plays in the third quarter. Licata saw the middle linebacker biting on a run and threw an 18-yard pass over the middle to Schreck. On the next series, Albany blitzed with UB in a second-and-15 hole. Easy pickings. Licata read it and dumped a 14-yard pass to a wide-open Schreck in the hole vacated by the blitzer. Schreck didn’t have to adjust his route at all. It was simply up to Licata to make the correct decision.
“The defense gives us some looks and we have answers to those looks,” Licata said. “That’s what makes this offense so powerful, I think.”
Licata was brilliant on non-option reads, too.
His best throw was a 46-yard bomb down the left seam on a go-route to sophomore Collin Lisa, a transfer from Alabama-Birmingham. The throw dropped in over the shoulder. On the next play, Licata beat a delayed blitz with a laser over the middle to Jacob Martinez on a post for a 20-yard TD. Defenses that blitz better get to Licata quick. In the second quarter, he stepped up into a tight pocket and hit Willoughby in a small window for a 24-yard gain.
“I’m very comfortable in this offense, and I think we can do a lot of great things,” Licata said.