The University at Buffalo suffered injuries to four key starters Wednesday night in a humbling, 23-7 loss to Kent State, including junior tailback Branden Oliver.-
Oliver, senior defensive end Steven Means, junior wide receiver Fred Lee and senior strong safety Issac Baugh were all lost during the game with undisclosed injuries. Bulls coach Jeff Quinn said the injuries would be evaluated further today.
"We knew before the half that he was out and it was confirmed at halftime that he wasn't going to be able to play in the second half," Quinn said of Oliver.
The loss of Oliver would be the most significant considering he's the face of the program and its most talented offensive player. When you factor in the fact that Oliver's backup, sophomore James Potts, is lost for the season with a knee injury, the Bulls are down to their third- and fourth-string tailbacks in junior Brandon Murie and true freshman Devin Campbell.
Murie rushed nine times for 37 yards Wednesday while Campbell finished with 27 yards on five carries. If Oliver is out for the long-term, Quinn might have to reach further down the depth chart and take a look at true freshman Jordon Johnson from Sweet Home.
"They both stepped in there and they played hard," Quinn said. "They did the best they could. They were locked in and they were ready to go."
Means went down in the first half and didn't return, as did Lee, who missed the team's last game against Morgan State. Baugh was injured in the second half and didn't return.
The lone highlight in an otherwise drab offensive performance was the Hail Mary pass from Alex Zordich to Alex Neutz that ended the first half.
Neutz (Grand Island) caught the 46-yard completion in front of several Kent State defenders to trim the Golden Flashes led to 10-7 by halftime.
"That was a tremendous lift and we brought it within a few points," Quinn said. "It was a one possession game."
Said Neutz, who finished with just two receptions for 58 yards: "It was your typical play. Zordich did his job in finding an open receiver down the field. I could tell it was a little short, so I tried to outjump all the other guys and the next thing I knew I was in the end zone so I guess it worked."
Kent State has a strong one-two punch in the backfield with Dri Archer and Traylon Durham.
Archer rushed for 127 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown and Durham, who committed to Wisconsin out of high school, finished with 112 yards on 23 carries. Archer works the edges while the 250-pound Durham pounds away between the tackles.
"They're good players and played a good game," said UB junior cornerback Najja Johnson. "I think our defense was better in the second half at stopping them and forcing other plays at times."
Kent State had the ball for more than 37 minutes and converted 7 of 20 third downs, including 5 of 13 in the second half. UB's defense didn't get much help from the offense (3 for 13 on third down).
Prior to last season, UB had 500 yards of total offense in just four games in its first 12 years in the FBS. The Bulls rolled up 571 yards against Morgan State for their third 500-plus yard game in their last nine outings dating back to last season. In addition, UB had 497 yards of offense against Akron on Nov. 19, 2011.
But on Wednesday, the Bulls came up with a mere 265 yards.
Joe Licata's first pass as a collegian - a touchdown to Neutz against Morgan State - was memorable, but his second was quite the opposite.
Soon after replacing Zordich late in the fourth quarter, Licata threw a pass behind Neutz and it was intercepted by corner Darius Polk, who returned it to the UB 15. Julian Durden's 2-yard run put Kent State ahead, 23-7.
Khalil Mack had another impressive performance in his second game back after serving a suspension for the season opener against Georgia.
The junior linebacker was the team leader in tackles with 12, including a pair of sacks and four tackles for losses. Defensive end Colby Way, linebacker Jake Stockman and strong safety Okoye Houston also recorded sacks.
Also, Johnson's interception of David Fisher's pass in the end zone late in the fourth quarter was the first of his career.
Means is the only current Bulls player who started the last time UB played Kent State in 2009. Means, a redshirt freshman, had five tackles including one for a loss in the 9-6 Bulls win which was also Turner Gill's last game before he departed for Kansas.
The Bulls captains for Wednesday were Oliver, Baugh, Mack and Jasen Carlson. .… While Kent State arrived Tuesday, UB's players attended class until noon Wednesday per NCAA rules. .… The Bulls are now 4-10 in MAC openers since joining the league in 1999 and has won three of its last five openers. . Wednesday was just the second time since 2004 UB played its conference opener at UB Stadium.