By MATT PARRINO
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The outcome was never in question.
The University at Buffalo football team was simply overmatched by a more talented Ohio State team on Saturday afternoon, the No. 2 football program in the country.
But despite a 40-20 loss in front of a national audience on ESPN2 and over 100,000 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, the Buffalo Bulls, in the midst of a re-branding effort to become New York state's flagship school, won the day.
Sure, there were the usual head-scratching moments that have become the norm throughout Bulls head coach Jeff Quinn's tenure at UB, but the Bulls' tenacious effort after going down big early and a breakout game for star linebacker Khalil Mack on the national stage were both gigantic victories for UB athletics.
Not only was Mack, a potential first-round NFL draft pick in 2014, trending nationally on Twitter during the game, but his sensational performance grabbed the attention of the entire college football world. He finished with eight tackles (2.5 TFL), 2.5 sacks and a ridiculous second-quarter, 45-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Mack was all over the field, making his presence felt in every aspect of the game. The Bulls may have been in the game late if the other 10 guys on defense were able to step up and make a few more plays. Blown coverages and missed tackles doomed the unit, which allowed OSU standout QB Braxton Miller to throw for two touchdowns and speedy running back Jordan Hall to scamper for 159 yards and a pair of scores.
On the offensive side of the ball, two local products played outstanding under the immense pressure of national TV and in one of the most hostile football environments in college football. Grand Island's Alex Neutz was his usual reliable self, hauling in nine balls for 98 yards and a touchdown, while the rest of the UB receiving corps only managed 10 receptions for 89 yards.
The Bulls' lack of help for Neutz in the passing game has been a problem the past two seasons, and if they are to compete for a Mid-American Conference title somebody will have to step up to give sophomore quarterback Joe Licata another option in the passing game.
Senior Fred Lee is the obvious candidate, but his inconsistency through his career continues to be a problem. He dropped a ball that hit him between the numbers on a 2nd and 20 which would have resulted in a first down. The next play Licata threw an interception on a tipped pass, one of his two costly mistakes on the day.
Overall, however, Licata (Williamsville/Williamsville South) was impressive. The redshirt-sophomore seemed calm and poised throughout the game, almost unaware of the pressure-packed environment around him. He threw a pair of touchdowns and seems to command the respect of his teammates in a way absent at the position since Drew Willy graduated.
Next week the Bulls are on the road again against another big-time opponent in Baylor. An upset victory would set the program and Western New York ablaze with excitement. But even if the Bulls are only able to keep it close, if they continue to execute and keep it a game then all of a sudden the in-house MAC title aspirations become relevant and worth talking about.Contact Tonawanda News sports editor at firstname.lastname@example.org and find him on Twitter @MattParrino.