By NICHOLAS MENDOLA, Associated Press
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ It’s not often a coach gets a Gatorade bath after the fourth game of a season, but Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn was all wet in a good way on Saturday after the Bulls beat Connecticut for the first time since 2001.
“We knew that our football team here has played this opponent quite well in the past,” Quinn said after his team beat the Huskies, 41-12. “We just weren’t able to secure that victory. I really challenged our kids to respond from play one to play last and every kid did that.”
The Bulls (2-2) forced Connecticut (0-4) into four turnovers that turned into 17 points, including a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown from Najja Johnson.
“It was a great win, especially for me,” Johnson said. “We played these guys the last four years. To lose the first three times is tough.”
Buffalo scored through the air, on the ground and on defense in building a 28-12 halftime lead. That half included a first quarter where the Bulls held an 11-point lead despite only possessing the ball for 2:35, a fact that inspired the defense.
“We felt like our defense played great and we wanted to keep getting after them,” Johnson said. “We wanted to keep our foot on the gas.”
Bulls quarterback Joe Licata passed for a career-high three touchdowns, connecting with different receivers on each score. Licata found Mason Schreck for a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter, later adding a 22-yard touchdown to Alex Neutz and a 36-yard score to Fred Lee.
Licata credited the rushing game in opening things up.
“They had to stop the run,” Licata said, explaining Branden “Bo” Oliver, James Potts and Devin Campbell give the Bulls a potent ground game. “They were worried about … those guys, running the ball so they gave us some windows to throw the ball.”
The Bulls were aided by the return of Oliver, who had 110 total yards including 90 yards rushing and a touchdown.
“I think Bo really tried to bring another level of intensity to our running game,” Quinn said. “We’re going to continue hanging our hat on those guys up front to be able to dominate the line of scrimmage, control things from that standpoint.”
The loss increases the pressure on third-year Connecticut head coach Paul Pasqualoni, who had few answers after his team managed just 220 yards of offense.
“I wish there was something I could’ve done to help them,” Pasqualoni said. “There’s no question. As a coach, you always feel that way.”
Starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer was intercepted twice and fumbled the ball as well. Backup Casey Cochran fared no better, intercepted on his first pass attempt by Nick Gilbo.
The Huskies continue to have trouble on the ground. Entering the game 121st in rushing offense, they finished the game with 27 yards rushing on 39 attempts.
Pasqualoni put a lot of responsibility on the offensive line.
“There’s only so many ways you can run the ball,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’ve gotta block.”
Patrick Clarke hit field goals of 49 and 50 yards for Buffalo.
Receiver Geremy Davis was a bright spot for the Huskies, with five catches for 102 yards.
The win was Buffalo’s first against a BCS school since Sept. 7, 2002, when they beat Rutgers.
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