GAME NOTES: Now with their first win as a member of the FBS out of the way, the Massachusetts Minutemen will try pick up a victory in Gillette Stadium the first time this season when they host the Buffalo Bulls for some Mid-American Conference action.
UMass ended a nation leading 12-game losing streak and earned its first win since ascending from the FCS last week by hanging on for a 22-14 victory over Akron. Coach Charley Molnar and his team will stay at its temporary home of Gillette Stadium for the its final two games of the season. Although they are coming off their first win, the Minutemen still are being outscored by an average of 29.9 points per game.
The Bulls are in the midst of a mini stampede as they come in on a two-game winning streak. Unfortunately Buffalo's 1-7 start eliminated it from bowl contention before it managed to locate this momentum. The Bulls began their streak with a 27-24 victory over Miami-Ohio courtesy of a 47-yard field goal by Patrick Clark. UB followed it up the next week with a successful fourth quarter rally to a 29-24 win over Western Michigan in its final home game.
UMass holds a 5-4 advantage in the all-time series between these schools. All of the previous meetings occurred when both programs were part of the FCS. The rivalry has been dormant since Sept. 2
Buffalo's offense has a new sheriff in Joe Lucata, who has been under center in both victories due to an injury to Alex Zordich. Lucata set a career-high with 285 yards on 21-of-33 passing with a touchdown versus Western Michigan last week. The previous week the sophomore passer went 13-of-24 for 127 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Zordich may have lost his starting job while out with an injury.
Buffalo is ranked only sixth in the MAC in rushing (193.2 ypg), but it has not had its star tailback Branden Oliver healthy all season. The junior tailback gained 300 yards on 56 carries in his first two games back. Last week, he rushed 12 times for 75 yards and a score in the first quarter before being sidelined again.
Freshman running back Devin Campbell carried the load when Oliver was sidelined earlier in the year and stepped in to do so once again last week. The rookie halfback became the first true freshman with three 100-rushing yard performances in school history by terrorizing Western Michigan for 107 yards a touchdown. Campbell also went down with an injury in the fourth quarter of the contest. Brandon Murie (159 yards, 36 carries) will assume the ball carrying duties if Oliver and Campbell are unable to play this week.
Alex Neutz is clearly the favorite target when a Buffalo QB drops back in the pocket. Neutz increased his season totals to 50 receptions, 847 yards, and 10 touchdowns (First in MAC) last week versus WMU. Devon Hughes is second to Neutz in each of those categories with 23 catches, 228 yards, and one touchdown (tied with four others).
Buffalo's defense is limiting opponents to 379 yards per game, which is the fourth lowest average in the MAC. However, the Bulls are surrendering 30.2 ppg, which ranks 83rd among the 124 teams in the FBS.
Khalil Mack and Colby Way have been a force up front for Buffalo, with 5.5 sacks each. Lee Skinner has registered a team-best 72 tackles while Mack is a close second with 69 stops. Cortney Lee made it clear he is going to be a problem for QBs in the MAC for two more full seasons. The sophomore cornerback set a career-high with three interceptions in last week's win over WMU.
The UMass offense has yet to fully catch up to the higher level of competition, as it puts up a mere average of 273.8 ypg and dwells in the FBS cellar in scoring offense with only 11.2 ppg. However, the Minutemen broke a four-game streak of being held under 300 yards of total offense by amassing 327 against Akron last week.
Freshman QB Mike Wegzyn finally broke out of his slump last week by completing 23-of-39 attempts for 266 yards with a touchdown and interception. Wegzyn had passed for a combined total of just 410 yards on 52-of-99 passing with no TDs and three interceptions. His improvement will be vital for the program's development.
Deion Walker (47 receptions, 537 yards, two TDs) has proven to be a reliable target for Wegzyn, and Alan Williams (28 receptions, 317 yards, four TDs) has been a factor in the red zone. Rob Branchflower stepped up at a crucial time last week by grabbing six catches for 64 yards.
Michael Cox is the team's lead back, but his production has been rather pedestrian with 168 carries for 613 yards and three touchdowns. As a team, the Minutemen average just 2.7 yards per rush attempt.
While the offense has certainly struggled, the defense has also done little to impress (41.1 ppg, 475.7 ypg). Despite winning, UMass allowed Akron to rack up 427 yards of total offense. However, it set a pair of new season-high with four interceptions and five total forced turnovers.
The increased volume of work has made Perry McIntyre one of the top tacklers in the nation (101 tackles, 5.5 TFL). Darren Thellen (67 tackles) and Khary Baily-Smith each have made two interceptions.
Despite their misleading record, the Bulls are a much more stable team than UMass. Even if Murie starts at tailback, Buffalo will have no problem moving the ball on the Minutemen.