UMass slow to get going, falls 41-21 to Buffalo in season finale

Last modified: Tuesday, December 02, 2014
AMHERST — UMass football coach Mark Whipple’s face was still red when he came into the postgame press conference.

Some of it was from spending four hours on the sideline in the cold, but some of it was anger after his team dropped its season finale to Buffalo, 41-21, Friday at McGuirk Stadium.

The Minutemen (3-9, 3-5 Mid-American Conference) may have won more games than their last two Bowl Subdivision seasons combined and may have made considerable progress statistically, but none of that was on the coach’s mind after the game.

“I’m very disappointed in the last two games. I thought we had maybe turned the corner, but we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Whipple said. “That wasn’t the same group and we’ve got to figure out why. Maybe with the first week, it was because we had only six days (to prepare) and we were at Akron. But (Friday) we were back home and had a lot of time. There was no juice. So I’ve got to figure it out.”

Neither offense could get any traction early as the game’s first eight drives resulted in seven punts and a missed Buffalo field goal.

But the Bulls (5-3, 3-4 MAC) took control late in the second quarter. Pinned on their own 1-yard line by a Brian McDonald punt, a 99-yard, 17-play drive in 8 minutes, 3 seconds was capped by quarterback Joe Licata’s 28-yard pass to Devon Hughes with 3:10 left in the half.

UMass tried to answer but Rodney Mills’ drop on Austin Whipple’s third-down pass forced a punt and gave the Bulls the ball back at their own 32 with 1:09 until intermission. Licata (20 for 27, 255 yards, four touchdowns) directed a 68-yard drive in 57 seconds and connected with Jacob Martinez for a 31-yard TD pass. After a missed extra point, the Bulls led 13-0 at halftime.

The momentum crossed intermission as UMass received the kickoff, but quickly punted. Buffalo then scored to stretch its edge to 20-7.

The Minutemen got a touchdown out of their wildcat formation when Marken Michel broke through the line for a 50-yard scoring run that made it 20-7 with 9:50 left in the third. But Devin Campbell’s 56-yard kickoff return gave the Bulls momentum and the ball at the UMass 39. Seven plays later they were in the end zone again when Licata hit Hughes for a 4-yard score that made it 27-7 with 6:43 left.

Buffalo was leaning on junior running back Anthone Taylor even before it opened a sizable edge, but after that he just ground down the UMass defense. He finished with 237 yards on 36 carries and scored Buffalo’s last two touchdowns.

The Minutemen added two fourth-quarter scores with the game out of reach as Austin Whipple (13 for 28, 168 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) twice found Tajae Sharpe (four catches, 36 yards) in the end zone.

“At the end of the day we didn’t put up any points in the first half and we couldn’t score until the end of the game,” said Austin Whipple, who didn’t turn the ball over after three interceptions last week against Akron. “At the end of the day that’s my job as a quarterback so, yeah it might have been better than Akron, but I still didn’t do my job.”

Senior linebacker Stanley Andre made 17 tackles in his final collegiate game.

“No team wants to go out the way we just did. We did fight. That’s something I’m proud of my team for. We didn’t come to play early enough and soon enough. In football, you get exploited in areas when you don’t show up,” Andre said. “I’d say it was execution. We’ve really been a good defense all year. It’s just very unfortunate when you’re not in the right place at the right time. There are so many plays that happen in football in which teams are exploited because teams aren’t in the right place at the right time. At some points you have to really tone into your assignments and I don’t think we did that the past two weeks.”

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