UConn football meets the MAC

Storrs - UConn is a member of the Big East, but is also a familiar opponent for the Mid-American Conference.

The Huskies (2-2) host Buffalo (1-2) on Saturday in what will be UConn's third game this season against a member of the MAC. The Huskies beat Massachusetts in the season opener before losing last week at Western Michigan.

A win would send UConn into Big East conference play with a winning record.

"To be 3-2 is a big difference compared to 2-3," defensive tackle Shamar Stephen said. "You have a lot more confidence going into Big East play at 3-2 as opposed to 2-3, so this is a big game for us."

It's also a big game for Buffalo, which lost its MAC opener last week to Kent State and saw its star player hurt in the process.

Running back Branden "Bo" Oliver had already rushed for 426 yards this season when he went down with what the team has only described as a leg injury in the first half. The Bulls were trailing 10-7 at the time. They ended up losing 23-7.

"It's day to day, we're going to have to wait and see," coach Jeff Quinn said. "I fully expect him to be on this trip. Whether he plays in the game, we're going to have to wait and see."

The Bulls will be facing a UConn defense that still ranks fifth in the nation in total defense (213 yards per game), despite giving up 330 yards in last week's 30-24 loss.

The Huskies also are showing improvement on offense, putting 425 yards against Western Michigan after averaging just 278 over the first three games.

Quarterback Chandler Whitmer had his first 300-yard passing day and running back Lyle McCombs, who ran for over 1,100 yards a year ago, had his first 100-yard game this season.

"We talked on the sideline and said, "We've got to pick it up, no more turnovers, no more sacks, no more negative plays,"' said receiver Geremy Davis, who had nine catches and 123 yards receiving against the Broncos. "Once we all had that mindset, we started executing. There's still things we need to improve on, but it was definitely a step forward."

UConn has won seven straight against the Bulls, including a hard-fought 17-3 win last year in Buffalo, and is 18-4 against teams from the MAC.

But this is not the same conference that teams once used to pad their records. Not only did UConn lose to a MAC team last week, but South Florida fell to Ball State, Northern Illinois beat Kansas and Central Michigan upset Iowa.

"It's one of the most solid conferences out there and it's starting to show itself among the other (automatic-qualifier) conferences, and that's what we like to see," Quinn said. "What we need to do is take care of our opportunities."

The game will be the first between the schools since Warde Manuel left Buffalo in February to become athletic director at UConn, giving the Bulls a little added motivation.

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