KALAMAZOO, Mich. — At halftime it had the feel of so many University at Buffalo road games from the recent past, and that’s not a good feeling given the history. The Bulls had played well enough to build a narrow lead, yet were flat enough where their advantage classified as perilous.
Any follower of UB football knows how things usually go from there. Defeat knocks and, like a character in a horror flick, UB answers to its eternal regret.
Only this time the Bulls didn’t open the door and beckon disaster. This time they kicked the door down upon the knocking demon. UB shrugged off the anxiety of a narrow halftime lead, flexed its defensive might and slayed winless Western Michigan, 33-0, on Homecoming at Waldo Stadium.
This UB team will gladly talk about history. This was UB’s first road shutout since 1965 and its first shutout of an FBS team since 2001. This UB team is the first ever off to a 2-0 start in the Mid-American Conference. And it’s the first UB team ever to win a game in a West Division stadium.
Already there are only two unbeatens left in the MAC East, and UB’s one of them. That humbling defeat at Baylor and narrow escape against Stony Brook look more and more like they served the purpose of preparing the Bulls for the MAC games that really mattered.
The shutout of the Broncos was a fitting reward for a defense that somehow gets better every week. The unit produced four more turnovers, including interceptions by Najja Johnson and Marqus Baker. Colby Way turned all the attention paid to Khalil Mack into a career-high three-sack day. Western Michigan missed a late first-half field goal and never again penetrated the UB 42.
“It feels good to know we can play on the road,” Mack said. “It’s been years where we didn’t do good on the road. We’re playing our butts off on defense and the offense keeps responding every time we get a turnover.”
“The Baylor game, I was so afraid we would lose complete confidence,” defensive coordinator Lou Tepper said of the resounding, 70-13 loss in Waco. “And Stony Brook, was a battle, it was a bear. But it wasn’t until UConn that we really felt the confidence that a great defense has. It’s often fragile, but I think right now our kids believe in each other, they believe in what we’re doing and they feel good about themselves.”
Western Michigan (0-7) sold out to stop the run and the results were all or nothing. Branden Oliver ran for 118 first-half yards but the Broncs also produced enough tackles for losses to throw UB out of whack. The lone score of the half came on the opening drive, a 63-yard march capped by Devin Campbell’s 1-yard touchdown run.
UB was fortunate to lead, 6-0. A late Western drive derailed when Way produced two of his three sacks. And then Andrew Haldeman, one of the MAC’s most reliable kickers, missed a 33-yarder. Given that reprieve, UB came out after halftime and took total control.
Baker’s interception led to a 51-yard field goal by Patrick Clarke. Mack’s strip-sack of quarterback Zach Terrell led to the first of Joe Licata’s three touchdown passes, a 2-yarder to tight end Mason Schreck. The Broncos went three-and-out their next series and UB answered with a 53-yard scoring drive capped by Licata’s 28-yard TD throw to Fred Lee.
“The takeaways in the second half obviously really made a difference,” said Bulls coach Jeff Quinn. “It wasn’t as well-executed a first half as I would have liked to have seen.”
The only late drama concerned whether UB’s D could maintain the zero.
“We haven’t seen a shutout since we played Rhode Island a couple years ago and it just feels great to have that satisfaction, not only as a defense but as a whole team,” Way said. “The offense played phenomenal, too, in the second half, and the better they play the more it keeps the defense off the field and keeps the momentum going. A shutout just feels great.”
Licata completed 11 of 21 throws for 124 yards and the three TDs. Oliver finished with 128 yards to set a school record with his 14th 100-yard day.
“That was the game plan, come in and run the ball,” Oliver said. “That’s what we wanted to do and we controlled the game like that.”
“It’s huge getting the running game going,” Licata said. “It opens up a lot of things. Our job is to score points and keep our defense off the field and getting our running game going. Our offensive line played great.”