UB football looks to turn season around going into MAC play
Struggling Bulls look to save season before it really begins
After a 1-3 start to the season, the UB football team looks to turn it around in conference play.
The Bulls open up their Mid-American Conference play when they host Eastern division foe Kent State (1-4, 0-1 MAC) on Saturday. The team is hoping to capitalize on a fresh start after the underwhelming start in their four game non-conference slate. Over the first four games their offense has stagnated in the hands of freshman quarterback Tyree Jackson and the team has come out looking flat in every game. Although the performance has been bad for Buffalo thus far, the potential remains riveting in a wide MAC Eastern Division.
“We had four games to get ready, now it’s a clean slate again,” Leipold said. “I think all of us have had our share of tough moments in the non-conference so it’s a clean start and it’s an exciting time for our guys.”
Buffalo will need to make adjustments, especially offensively. In the past two games, they have only gained 302 yards combined.
Their running game specifically has struggled. After averaging 228.5 rushing yards against Albany and Nevada, they averaged 56.5 yards in their last two outings against Army and Boston College. The Bulls only averaged 2.2 yards per rush in those two games.
“First two games we had moments of some of the best rushing attack we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Leipold said. “And we’ve been trying to replicate that and within what we do were going to continue to evaluate ways that we can get that going.”
Senior running back Jordan Johnson will need to step up for the Bulls. With over 100 yards in both of Buffalo’s first two games, he is the tone setter for the Bulls rushing game.
Sophomore running back Johnathan Hawkins will also be important moving forward as a change-of-pace back. Utilizing his speed and getting him more involved in the run game will help open things up for Johnson. Hawkins’ speed also makes him an asset in the passing game. One thing both running backs have shown is an ability to protect the passer, which is helpful with a freshman quarterback.
Although the start of his career has been a mixed bag, Jackson’s potential is still impossible to ignore. With his strong showing against Army, Jackson showed he can take over games heading into MAC play.
Jackson stumbled last weekend with just 41 passing yards against Boston College. Buffalo currently has the last ranked passing offense in the MAC. The Bulls will need to revert back to their read option moving forward to jumpstart the rushing game and allow for more space to get the passing game going.
“As a team we all need to get better,” Leipold said. “There’s plenty of things that have to be worked on and that started yesterday in the film room and will be continued today on the field.”
Defensively, Buffalo has been inconsistent this year. Although they’ve allowed 1,015 rushing yards so far this season, which is the most allowed in the MAC conference, they have shown the capability to come up big. They have faced 221 rushes and only allowed 4.6 yards per rush, including holding Boston College to just 2.5 yards per rush.
The front seven specifically have been playing solid football for the Bulls.
“I think we have a very strong defensive line that helps out a lot,” said junior linebacker Ishmael Hargrove at a press conference Tuesday. “A lot of veterans on the d-line, our linebacker core has a lot more depth than last year, that we use, guys like [sophomore linebacker] Jordan Collier and Matt Otwinowski, a true freshman [linebacker], they come in and help us with the depth and things like that, that we really didn’t have last year.”
Sophomore linebacker Khalil Hodge leads the team in tackles, averaging 12.3 per game so far this season. Hargrove and junior linebacker Jarrett Franklin have 36 and 34 tackles respectively. Hargrove also has two forced fumbles along with two fumble recoveries.
“One of the things we showed in the team meeting yesterday was the eastern division standings and where everyone is at and really if we were 4-0 right now, and unfortunately we’re not, we’d still be 0-0 as far as conference play and what matters,” Leipold said.
While every team starts 0-0 both the Akron Zips (3-2, 1-0 MAC) and the Ohio Bobcats (3-2, 1-0 MAC) have shown more potential than Buffalo in the Eastern Division. The Zips have the third highest scoring offense in the MAC and the Bobcats have the fourth best scoring defense in the MAC. They will also face quite a test when the currently undefeated Western Michigan Broncos (5-0, 1-0 MAC) host the Bulls.
The east is a struggling division with two teams besides Buffalo only having one win, Kent State and Bowling Green (1-4, 0-1 MAC), and one team having not won at all, Miami (OH) (0-5, 0-1 MAC). These four teams make up the four worst offenses within the MAC this season, based on scoring and yardage, along with four of the six worst scoring defenses.
If Buffalo can capitalize on the sparks of talent they showed against Army, they could have a chance in the wide-open MAC East. But there’s a lot of work to be done. Buffalo has lost six of their last seven games under Leipold and this upcoming stretch of games will be pivotal not just for this season, but for the future of the program in his hands.
Daniel Petruccelli is a sports staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org