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UMass football hopes for winning streak against Buffalo

With its season-long quest to get its first Bowl Subdivision win behind it, the University of Massachusetts football team is now focused on becoming a winning program.

“Whatever psychological barriers there were or lack of belief, or wondering if a win was ever going to come, at least we’ve dispelled that from their mind,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “They can concentrate on playing fast and furious football and not worry about getting that so important first win. They can go out and do their very best.”

UMass redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn agreed.

“Not winning any games, you can say it doesn’t affect morale, but it definitely takes a toll on a team,” he said. “Getting that first win gives a lot of the guys more confidence. We kind of broke that barrier. It was a huge relief. I felt huge relief getting the first win, kind of getting that out of the way. We’ll move on trying to win the last two.”

Those last two are at home, starting with Saturday’s 3 p.m. game against Buffalo at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

The Bulls (3-7) are eliminated from bowl contention, but Buffalo has some momentum with wins over Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan behind a strong running game and new starting quarterback Joe Licata.

Since taking over as starter two weeks ago, Licata is 34 for 57 for 412 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Junior running back Branden Oliver is probable for Buffalo, according to the Buffalo News. Despite missing four games with an injury, Oliver (139 carries for 801 yards, five TDs) is on pace for 1,000 yards.

FIRST-STRING OFFENSIVE LINE — For the first time all season, Molnar may have his ideal offensive line in place. The expected return of Al Leneus from a concussion will allow the Minutemen to start Anthony Dima at right tackle, Leneus at right guard, Quinton Sales at center, Nick Speller at left guard and Stephane Milhim at left tackle.

Jamie Casselberry, who has also been recovering from concussion symptoms, is expected back as well and will provide depth.

HEALTH — Sophomore receiver Marken Michel is questionable for Saturday’s game with a leg injury. He didn’t practice Wednesday, the last day with media access.

Redshirt freshman defensive back Iric Harris, who has battled a leg injury for much of the season, was at full participation at practice.

“We’re confident that he’ll be 100 percent or close enough,” Molnar said.

QB RECRUIT — According to the MaroonMusket.com, Montclair (N.J.) High School quarterback Nate Crutchfield committed to UMass as a preferred walk-on. Crutchfield, a high school teammate of offensive lineman Sam Zeff, who committed to UMass over the summer, has 14 touchdowns and 1,023 yards passing this season.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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