UMass football team looks to build off first win with trip to Buffalo
AMHERST — With its first victory of the season under its belt, the University of Massachusetts heads to the University of Buffalo Saturday with hopes of capitalizing on positive momentum.
A season ago, Buffalo stood between UMass and a two-game winning streak. UMass led 19-7 midway through the third quarter, but eventually lost 29-19.
Faced with the same situation, Minutemen coach Charley Molnar believed that his team was in a good spot this time around.
“I think our team is fairly healthy right now, the best we’ve been in a while,” Molnar said. “We’re in a good place mentally, the guys know that this is a challenge.”
The Bulls, who have won four straight, enter Saturday’s contest as one of the hottest teams in the Mid-American Conference. Buffalo’s offense averaged 35.5 points per game during the streak, while the Bulls’ “stack” defense allowed 12.3 points per game and pitched a shutout of Eastern Michigan.
“This is a unique defensive structure that we’re playing, unlike any other that we’ve faced since we played Buffalo last year,” Molnar said.
The Minutemen are coming off their best offensive performance of the season. UMass beat Miami (Ohio) 17-10 last weekend at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
“I think we have a lot more weapons this year than we did last year, a lot more depth overall,” UMass quarterback A.J. Doyle said. “I think that helps us out a lot and makes the coaches’ job a little bit easier.”
Running back Jamal Wilson has taken advantage of injuries and additional minutes. Wilson accounted for 128 total yards against Bowling Green and 146 total yards against Miami to earn a bigger role within the offense.
“Honestly, I know I was a backup but I prepared every week like I was the man going into the game,” Wilson said. “All offseason I worked really hard training, came out here and ran every day, never missed a day, I was just waiting for my opportunity.”
Wilson’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield has added another element to the offense.
“I can catch well and if I need to line up and run a route and catch the ball to get us yards or get us the win, then that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.
Time & Location: 3:30 p.m., UB Stadium, Buffalo, N.Y.
Records: UMass (1-5, 1-1 MAC); Buffalo (4-2, 2-0)
Previous Meeting: Buffalo beat UMass 29-19 last season
All-time series: Series tied 5-5
Radio: If the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers play Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, the UMass football game will air on WHYN-AM (560). If the Sox and Tigers play at 8:30 p.m., the football game will be on WWEI-FM (105.5).
When UMass has the ball: The Minutemen will look to utilize tight end Rob Blanchflower, who caught his first touchdown pass last week and amassed 98 yards. Blanchflower and receivers Elgin Long and Tajae Sharpe are forming a formidable receiving core for Doyle.
The leader of Buffalo’s defense is senior linebacker Khalil Mack, who is projected as a high-level pick in next year’s NFL Draft. Mack leads the team in tackles (41), tackles for loss (eight) and sacks (five), while also picking up an interception and a forced fumble.
“He’s just another player,” Doyle said. “As long as we execute what we’re supposed to, there’s no reason why we can’t make him ineffective.”
When Buffalo has the ball: UMass is expected to get safety Joe Colton back after he missed two games with a knee injury. Colton adds another layer of depth to an already deep defensive secondary.
UMass will need to limit big plays against Buffalo. Opponents have 35 plays of at least 20 yards, including 10 of at least 30 yards, against the Minutemen.
Senior running back Brandon Oliver is 153 yards shy of setting the program rushing record. He has 2,987 yards rushing. He averages 4.5 yards per carry and has scored 22 touchdowns.