UB Bulls' deep run game goes against Kent State’s impressive run defense
The Buffalo football team is running in the right direction.
Its already on a two-game win streak and has witnessed the emergence of junior running back Jordan Johnson.
And Buffalo is only projected to get better this week with a healthy Anthone Taylor nearing 100 percent. It’s a problem for head coach Lance Leipold to find playing time for both of his backs.
It’s one of the better problems he will face this season.
“We’re going to find situations to use them both,” Leipold said. “Maybe it’s who has the hot hands sometimes. I think both guys have handled that well. It’s not like rotating quarterbacks, but you have to get a running back get into a rhythm to understand the flow of the game. And a game like this is one that you’re going to need both.”
The Bulls (4-4, 2-2 Mid-American Conference) have had recent success in past weeks with the running game, but this will be their biggest test to date in conference play as they face Kent State (3-5, 2-2 MAC) and its second-ranked rush defense on Thursday night.
The Golden Flashes seem to do better against the run when they’re playing equal competition. Both Buffalo and Kent State have two conference victories and are both 2-3 in their past five games.
That could spell trouble for Buffalo, who prides itself on the run game as of late. The Golden Flashes surrendered 153 rushing yards to Bowling Green, but only gave up 86 the week prior to Massachusetts.
But Kent State will have its hands full after back-to-back career games by Johnson and the return of Taylor. Leipold said Taylor, a senior running back, is still working his way to 100 percent and is needed for the final stretch of the season. He has not named a starter yet, but he expects to use both players on Thursday.
“Jordan Johnson has really stepped up for us, getting a lot of carries and being productive, especially in the second half,” Leipold said. [Taylor] is moving a lot better and is getting closer and closer to 100 percent … We’re going to need both of these guys down the stretch and finding ways to use both of them is a good problem to have.”
But as one player returns from injury, three might be shelved for an extended period of time. Last week, guards Brandon Manosalvas and Dillon Guy went down with injuries and did not return to the game.
Leipold denied comment on either of their playing status for Thursday.
It may be detrimental to Buffalo’s offensive line, especially against the deep front that the Golden Flashes have. Kent State is always rotating defensive linemen into the game to keep them fresh, according to Leipold. Yet no player is more valuable to the Golden Flashes on defense than Nate Terhune.
Terhune, a defensive lineman, leads a unit that ranks second in the conference with only 118 rushing yards allowed per game. He is tied for fourth in the MAC with four sacks this season and accumulated seven tackles for losses. Altogether, the team leads the conference with 23 sacks.
The secondary is no slouch either.
The Golden Flashes are fourth in the conference in pass defense with only 211 passing yards allowed per game. But they’re going to need that defense to show up to defeat Buffalo’s fast-paced offense and impressive breakout defense.
Kent State ranks dead last in many passing categories and it will likely be its biggest downfall on Thursday. They average nearly 45 passing yards less than second-to-last Akron in that category.
Leipold is banking on Buffalo’s strong running game to propel the team to a three-game winning streak and a 3-2 record in MAC play.
“Our ability to be consistent running the ball is something that we’ve been very up and down with,” Leipold said. “It’s going to be one of those games where we’re going to have to find ways to get tough yards and establishing a run game.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Thursday.