UB Bulls gridiron season report card
After a 5-7 season, The Spectrum hands out grades for the 2015 football season
The football team ended its first season of the Lance Leipold era 5-7 with a 3-5 Mid-American Conference record.
A 5-7 record isn’t a bad start to the Leipold era, but losing three in a row to end the season, when just one more win was needed to make the team bowl eligible, left a sour taste in fans’ mouths.
Here is how The Spectrum graded the Bulls for the 2015 season.
Senior Joe Licata never got fully adjusted in Leipold’s system.
Licata completed 62 percent of his passes for 2969 passing yards. Good numbers. The issue, however, was Licata’s 16 touchdown passes to 15 interceptions.
The 16 touchdown passes were a career-low since he assumed the starting position full time in 2013, while the 15 interceptions were a career high
But it’s hard to knock Licata’s senior leadership, and that came threw in a tough loss to Penn State and a comeback victory over Kent State. He was the heart and soul of this team this season and the past three years as Buffalo’s starting quarterback.
Running backs: A
The Bulls send off one of the program’s best-ever running backs, but will also return a pretty good back.
After a career-high 1,403-yard rushing season, senior running back Anthone Taylor was hampered with injuries throughout most of the season. He finished the 2015 season with a team-high 829 rushing yards and three touchdowns and ended his UB career with 2,651 career-rushing yards.
Junior Jordan Johnson experienced a breakout season in 2015. Johnson ran for 811 rushing yards and was Buffalo’s goal line back, as he racked up 12 touchdowns for the Bulls. He also picked up the slack when Taylor was hurt, with nine touchdowns in the team’s final six games of the season and two games with more than 100 yards rushing.
Johnson is expected to be the starter entering the 2016 season, with freshman Jonathan Hawkins (15 carries, 53 yards in 2015) to assume a larger role.
Wide receivers and tight ends: B
A strength for the Bulls throughout the season, Buffalo’s offensive skill players were vital in the team’s new pro-style offense.
Senior Ron Willoughby continued to be a main target for Licata in the passing game, finishing with 62 receptions, 813 yards and six touchdowns. Junior Marcus McGill answered the call as the No. 2 wide receiver, finishing with 50 receptions for 581 yards and four touchdowns.
The tight end position was one that head coach Lance Leipold saw as an untapped resource for Buffalo. With greater emphasis on the position, Leipold got a breakout season from senior tight end Matt Weiser.
After catching 29 passes during his first three seasons, Weiser finished with a team-high 63 catches on the season with 625 yards and three touchdowns and was named to the first-team All-MAC team. After battling injuries, Schreck finished with 21 catches for 209 yards, a solid contribution for a No. 2 tight end.
Offensive line: B
After a rough start to the 2015 season, Buffalo’s offensive line turned it around in conference play and has a bright future heading into the 2016 season.
Buffalo’s offensive line was young and inexperienced, featuring freshman center James O’Hagan, sophomore guard Brandon Manosalvas alongside him on the interior and junior college transfer Roubbens Joseph. The result was several opponents creating pressure on Licata, forcing several turnovers.
After an injury to senior guard Dillon Guy, Buffalo’s offensive line was shuffled around and became a solid unit, keeping Licata upright in the pocket and allowing him to find Willoughby, McGill and Weiser downfield.
Entering next season, the Bulls will have to replace their offensive tackles Robert Blodgett and all-important left tackle John Kling, but the future is bright for the interior of that line.
Defensive line: C
The defensive line went through peaks and valleys throughout the season for Buffalo, but mostly valleys.
The biggest weakness for Buffalo throughout the season was the run defense. The Bulls ranked ninth in the MAC in rushing defense with 186.1 yards allowed a game. Part of that responsibility falls on the D-line. The Bulls also got just 12 sacks from its down linemen.
Junior defensive tackles Brandon Crawford and Max Perisse played well at times, but could have added more production. The pair combined for 60 tackles and three sacks.
As for the defensive ends, the Bulls had several underclassmen fill out the roster and all experienced playing time. Sophomore Demone Harris led the group with 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks, while freshman Solomon Jackson and sophomore Charles Harris combined for 26 tackles and three sacks.
The defensive line is the position that has to improve the most for Buffalo to contend in the MAC next season.
This was the group that was supposed to struggle. It turned out to be the best unit on the team.
The trio of seniors Nick Gilbo and Okezie Alozie and junior Brandon Berry was Buffalo’s most impressive unit on the defensive side of the ball. Gilbo finished with a team-high 113 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 12 tackles for losses, while Berry had 104 tackles and 11.5 tackles for losses.
Alozie showed his ability as a tackler and a playmaker in his final season, finishing with 85 tackles on the season, five sacks, 10.5 tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
After a strong start, the Buffalo secondary had a weak finish to the season. Overall, the team finished right in the middle of the conference, sixth, in pass defense. But several players return in 2016, making it one of the more experienced units on the defensive side of the ball.
Senior cornerback Marqus Baker ends his career with 71 tackles and 12 pass breakups. Junior cornerback Boise Ross finished with 52 tackles, two interceptions and a team-high 18 pass breakups, but those two interceptions and 10 of his breakups came in the first four games.
The biggest question mark for Buffalo secondary heading into the season was the safeties. But overall sophomore safeties Ryan Williamson and Andrews Dadeboe well enough. Williamson had 83 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble and Dadeboe finished with 36 tackles and two picks.
The Bulls have a spot open at one of its two outside cornerback positions, but the other three positions appear to be locked in heading into spring ball.
Special teams: A-
Buffalo’s special teams may be the biggest improvement from last year’s squad.
A freshman kicker and a senior punter were the faces of this unit, and excelled doing so. Freshman Adam Mitcheson went 13-of-19 in field goal kicking during his first season with Buffalo, while senior Tyler Grassman proved to be one of the best all-around kickers in the conference.
He was responsible for 25 touchbacks and averaged 41 yards per punt this season while talking home multiple Player of the Weeks honors.
For his first season as a Division-I head coach, Leipold did a great job of getting several underclassmen playing time and incorporating them into future roles. The Bulls had a combined 32 freshmen and sophomores get playing time this season, setting up for future success.
Buffalo also impressed in wins over Ohio and Kent State and even in a loss to Penn State in Happy Valley.
As for the negatives, the Bulls had several gaffs and questionable play calls throughout conference play. It was also telling that the Bulls often struggled in the first half and had to recover in the second half. They made great halftime adjustments, but had several slow starts.
Still, Leipold showed why he was a great coach in Division III and why he may be the one to turn the Bulls around.