AMHERST — Buffalo planned to showcase star running back Branden Oliver on national TV on Wednesday night, but Kent State wasn’t keen on playing a supporting role.
The game was broadcast on ESPNU and 14,373 attended the game at UB Stadium. Oliver suffered a game-ending leg injury at the end of the first half and wouldn’t return. The Bulls offense ended up being stifled by Kent State in a 23-7 defeat.
Bulls coach Jeff Quinn wasn’t happy with his team’s effort, especially a conference matchup.
“It was a disappointing loss and very frustrating,” Quinn said. “I’m very aggravated because it’s not about the losing but about the way we played, especially on the offensive side of the ball.”
Quinn looked to quarterback Alex Zordich to make plays in Oliver’s absence and the junior didn’t deliver. He only completed 4 of 22 passes and threw two costly interceptions, one deep in Kent State territory with the Bulls looking for the go-ahead score with the game still in reach.
Zordich’s lone highlight came on the final play of the first half when he miraculously found junior wide receiver Alex Neutz on a 46-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass. Neutz elevated over the defense and walked, untouched, into the endzone amidst a stunned Kent State secondary.
The expectation was that the Bulls would play well under the bright lights, especially for Quinn. The coach liked the way his team practiced the past week and couldn’t figure out why his players couldn’t make plays.
Quinn said that Zordich was pressing too much and that led to his poor play.
“He’s disappointed as we all are. He’s a guy that has fought his tail end off to get to this point and today is something he has to learn from,” Quinn said.
Zordich said he expects more out of himself and is dedicated to learning from his mistakes.
“It’s just a bad game all around,” Zordich said. “This team needs more from me and I put that on my shoulders ... Our defense helped us out all game, putting us in great position to win. Offensively we just weren’t there today.”
The Kent State running back tandem of Dri Archer and Trayion Durham put on a clinic, combining for 239 yards. Both players scored a touchdown and went over the 100-yard mark.
Archer’s speed was evident early when he broke a 57-yard run to put the Bulls’ defense on its heels. Durham was the workhorse for the Golden Flashes, totaling 23 carries on the night.
Oliver ran for 77 yards on 16 carries before he left the game. His replacements, Brandon Murie and Devin Campbell, combined for only 64 yards on 14 carries.
Khalil Mack had a strong game on defense, making 12 tackles and recording two sacks for the Bulls. Buffalo got decent pressure on whoever was behind center for Kent State — David Fisher and Spencer Keith spilt time — totaling five sacks.
“I thought our defense played a whale of a game,” Quinn said. “I thought they gave a great effort. We didn’t help our cause (with the turnovers).”
Redshirt-freshman quarterback Joe Licata was inserted in the game late and threw the Bulls’ third interception on the night. Buffalo also lost a fumble and the turnover battle, 4-1.
Quinn said there is no information on the severity of Oliver’s injury. The coaching staff will check with doctors tomorrow and hopefully will get a better idea of how long the running back will be out of action.
Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda Sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.