The University at Buffalo concluded spring practice last year with a huge question mark at quarterback. That won’t be the case heading into training camp in August.
Sophomore Joe Licata solidified his position after a strong spring which culminated with the Blue & White Game on Saturday at UB Stadium. The former Williamsville South quarterback engineered two touchdown drives while completing 9-of-16 passes for 96 yards to lead the Blue team to a 17-3 victory over the White.
Licata was part of the highlight package in Saturday’s game, by throwing a 5-yard touchdown strike to Alex Neutz on a back shoulder fade, then hitting tight end Matt Weiser for the game’s biggest play on a 42-yard touchdown pass.
“Coming together as an offense and being a leader out there I think all the guys look to me and believe in me and that helps a lot,” Licata said. “We put in a lot of new sets, simplified things, put in some pass checks and a lot of good stuff that’s going to help me and help this offense really run smoothly.”
Afterward, coach Jeff Quinn confirmed what has long been suspected: Licata will take snaps with the first team at the start of training camp, while adding that senior Alex Zordich remains an key part of the offense.
“We’ve taken a full account of all the work done by Joe last year, this offseason and all 15 practices and Joe’s going to have the opportunity to continue to be that No. 1 guy, taking those first-team reps” Quinn said. “We need to understand how important Alex Zordich is in our system and our offense and our program and continue developing him also.”
Now in his third season with the program, Licata has a better grasp of the offense which he took over for the final four games of last season when the Bulls finished 3-1. He went 65 of 117 for 806 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions during the stretch and was his standard steady self all spring.
“He feels more comfortable with the system and the signals, his reads, his keys, making good decisions,” Quinn said. “He’s very accurate with his throws and basically we try to let Joe and Alex run the offense and manage it with the same cast of guys – the first team offensive line, the first team receivers. We’ve taken account every snap, what they did on every single play and we felt that Joe has a slight edge at this point.”
The 45-yard strike hearkened back to the 30-yard touchdown to Neutz in what proved to be the winner in the Bulls 29-24 win over Western Michigan last November.
“Joe did a great job audibling plays, seeing the defense in a certain formations he would audible into a run play or a pass play,” said UB senior tailback Branden Oliver, who finished with a game-high 52 yards rushing. “He’s doing a great job becoming a leader of the team and his arm speaks for itself. He knows the defense, breaks the defense down and puts the offense in the best situation.”
But Zordich, remains the team’s most experienced quarterback and in some ways the pulse of the team. Playing behind Licata on the White team, Zordich was 13 of 18 for 81 yards and rushed twice for 13 yards. His 501 yards rushing a year ago means he’s too invaluable to keep on the sidelines and signal in plays.
“That’s why he’s a great competitor,” Quinn said. “I couldn’t be more proud of his leadership, maturity and understanding where he’s at in terms of his development. He’s not going away, he knows that this is an opportunity for him to continue to get better and he’s going to continue to do that. We’re going to win with both of them and they’re both very, very important to the football team.”
But it appears UB finally has some stability at quarterback. If all goes according to plan, Licata will be the fifth different opening day starter since Drew Willy departed in 2008 following Zach Maynard, Jerry Davis, Chazz Anderson and Zordich.
“The confidence that they have in me, it shows with confidence out there on the field for me,” Licata said. “I think the guys on offense believe in me and that’s helped me along the way to develop.”