The first seven minutes of so of the Lance Leipold era felt much like the team UB fans hoped to leave in 2014. But after UB was held to a season-opening three and out and Albany marched down the field for a touchdown, the tides changed, and Buffalo rolled to a 51-14 win and plenty of snaps for backups in the fourth quarter.
Even that score belies how easily the Bulls put away their in-state guests, as Joe Licata passed for 246 yards and a pair of touchdowns in victory, but left the game with a 38-7 lead with six minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Buffalo senior found eight different receivers on the day, and backs Anthone Taylor and Jordan Johnson combined for 28 carries, 173 yards, and three touchdowns.
Facing an FBS opponent for the first time in program history, Albany looked dangerous early on, holding the Bulls on their first possession before Penn State transfer DJ Crook led a 14 play drive to take the lead, with Albany's standout receiver Josh Gontarek hauling in the touchdown.
But the Great Danes could not match the Bulls physicality even before losing two defensive starters to injury, and punted on five of their next seven possessions, while UB interceptions ended the visitors' drives immediately before and after halftime. The pair of takeaways, from Nick Gilbo before the half and Boise Ross after, matched UB's total for the entire 2014 season. Okezie Alozie led the defense with seven tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.
Meanwhile, the Licata-led Bulls scored on six of their next seven drives, stopped only by halftime, and by the beginning of the fourth quarter Leipold had sent in his second string on both sides of the ball. A number of true freshmen saw playing time both with the first and second string. Brandon Stanback, Justin Brandon, and Charles Harris saw action among the defensive first string.
On offense, freshmen Johnathan Hawkins and Brandon Smiley earned reps late in the game, with Hawkins earning 10 late-game carries for 37 yards. Sophomore Jacob Martinez put the final nail in the coffin with an electrifying 86-yard punt return in the final two minutes that put UB over 50 points. Martinez' score broke a 13-year punt return drought for UB that was the longest in the nation. Buffalo's last punt return touchdown came from Andre Forde in the 2002 season opener against Lehigh.
The only negative on the day for Buffalo was a scary injury to safety Jordan Collier, who was knocked out on the field on a first-quarter kickoff and was taken away by ambulance after a lengthy delay. It didn't take long, though, for positive reports: UB had been exceedingly cautious with the redshirt freshman, who has movement in his extremities and should be fine.
Buffalo will next travel to State College, PA for a road game against the Penn State Nittany Lions. UB last met Penn State on 15 September 2007, when the then-12th ranked Nittany Lions topped UB 45-24. Kickoff for this year's game will be at noon and broadcast on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.