Minutemen defense comes up short in 41-21 loss to Buffalo

By Mark Chiarelli

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In its final game of the 2014 season, the Massachusetts football team went out with little more than a murmur.

On a day where the offense continued to struggle without starting quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, the Minutemen defense was as cold as the fans sitting in the snow-filled steel bleachers at McGuirk Stadium. UMass showed little resistance to Buffalo’s ground game and failed to keep Bulls quarterback Joe Licata from completing timely passes in a 41-21 loss.

It was a performance that left UMass coach Mark Whipple searching for answers following the game.

“I’m very disappointed in the last two games,” Whipple said. “I thought we had maybe turned the corner, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Buffalo gained 548 yards and was on the field for a whopping 35 minutes, five seconds. Bulls running back Anthone Taylor ran for 237 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries, his final 76 yards coming on a touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter to put Buffalo up 41-14.

The Bulls offensive plan centered around Taylor, who shouldered much of the offensive burden and had little difficult in churning out first downs. Taylor was stopped behind the line of scrimmage for only six total yards.

“When the defense isn’t in the right place at the right time, a back is going to do well,” UMass senior linebacker Stanley Andre said. “Unfortunately, he did take advantage of us. Hats off to him.”

And after Buffalo established its run game, Licata attacked a vulnerable UMass secondary.

He threw for two touchdown passes in the first half, the first a 28-yard strike to receiver Devon Hughes and the second a 31-yard pass to receiver Jacob Martinez.

Hughes’ catch came at the expense of UMass defensive back Randall Jette. Hughes made a diving catch in the back left corner of the end zone, fully extending past Jette for the score. Martinez’s score came three minutes later, after Licata beat Minutemen safety Khary Bailey-Smith on a post down the middle of the field right before halftime.

Whipple cited the lack of performances in 1-on-1 situations like Jette’s and Bailey-Smith’s that, among other issues, cost UMass the game.

“It was the coverage breakdowns,” Whipple said. “We got beat in 1-on-1 situations and blew a couple coverages. To give up a touchdown play with 12 seconds left in the half is unacceptable. It’s frustrating to see that at this point in the season, especially when we had a couple extra days to prepare.”

The Bulls onslaught – which began late in the second half and turned into a 13-0 halftime lead – continued in the second half.

Buffalo again utilized advantageous individual situations, as Licata completed three passes to receiver Ron Willoughby for 68 yards and a touchdown on the first scoring drive of the second half. Each time, Willoughby beat UMass defensive back Jackson Porter in coverage, leading to a 20-0 Buffalo lead.

Licata victimized Jette again in the third quarter as well, completing a 28-yard pass to Hughes over Jette on fourth down to prolong a scoring drive on a play in which UMass blitzed heavily. Licata again found Hughes shortly after a for a 4-yard touchdown pass to make it 27-7.

Whipple said he felt the team lacked sufficient talent to compete across the board.

“Obviously, we’re not good enough,” he said. “A lot of it comes down to 1-on-1s. If you can’t get it done, we’ve got to find somebody else. That’s what we’ve got to do.”

The Minutemen defense allowed 71 points in its final two games, both coming without Frohnapfel, who injured his right leg in a victory over Ball State on Nov. 12. While the offense struggled under backup quarterback Austin Whipple, the defense, which didn’t suffer any significant injuries or lineup changes throughout the season, came up short.

“I’d say it was execution,” said Andre, who recorded 17 tackles in his final game as a member of the Minutemen.

“We’ve shut teams out at some points. It’s just very unfortunate when you’re not 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.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.