Licata, Campbell show promise
I saw the future on Saturday.
I saw conference championship rings and bowl wins. I saw national respect, big-name recruits coming to town and UB's annual pro day drawing NFL scouts in masses.
I saw two freshmen who looked ready for their chance in the Bulls' 38-31 loss to Ohio.
Yes, freshmen. Athletes with four years left to play. Imagine the possibilities.
Running back Devin Campbell rushed 30 times for 160 yards - a UB record for a freshman - and a touchdown against the highly touted Bobcats. Redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Licata only played one drive, going 5 for 10 for a meager 36 yards, but he looked more in command than any UB quarterback has this year.
The youngsters showed incredible potential, igniting hopes of what could be.
That's the taunting thing about daydreaming, though - it isn't the present, and to make your dreams into reality you "must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy," as T.S. Eliot has so eloquently put it.
Campbell had power - notching a couple truck-stick, so-much-determination hits on Ohio defenders. He also displayed tremendous speed - injured junior running back Branden Oliver said Campbell might be the fastest player on the team. But Campbell's vision was most impressive, as he ducked and weaved between blockers for consistent big gains.
"Devin ran hard for us," said junior quarterback Alex Zordich. "It's just unfortunate we had so many guys play great, and we just don't come up with the outcome we want."
Licata was poised in the pocket, accurate and efficient; his stat line would have looked a lot better barring a couple drops.
Head coach Jeff Quinn is the man who must go the way of no ecstasy. There is no bliss in benching someone who has sold out for his team, but the vision of future success does not include the hard-working junior quarterback.
It does include two young guns - Licata and Campbell - complementing an established superstar, Oliver, to form the best offense in the MAC next year. Licata has the cannon and intelligence to manage an offense without hitches - he just needs the experience.
Oliver is the best player in the conference when he is healthy. On Saturday, Campbell proved he, too, could be one of the best runners in UB history. Think of how he'll play next season after a full year of world-class training with strength coach Zach Duval - the same man who helped build Oliver into the tank we see today.
"At first it was a little weird," Campbell said. "I was a little nervous because, you know, it was my first career start. But once I got comfortable after the first drive, I just went in and did what I was supposed to do."
Picture Campbell and Oliver in the same backfield. The scenario looks a lot like the Bills' duo of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller.
"He was just coaching me up, trying to keep my head in it, just reminding me telling me what I needed to do," said Campbell of Oliver. "He was just my support."
The Buffalo Bills analogy is flawed for one reason, though: UB's quarterback will be more reliable.
Licata can open up the field. While Zordich is the far superior runner - his 19 carries for 110 yards against Ohio are a testament to that - his passing ability leaves much to be desired.
We've seen his ceiling. He's never going to be an air-it-out, 250- or 300-yard-a-game quarterback. It's not the kind of guy he is, but it's the kind of guy this offense needs to open lanes for its excellent runners.
The defense is already on its way, with some of the best young performers in the conference - sophomores Cortney Lester and Lee Skinner - emerging beside established juniors Khalil Mack and Colby Way.
This isn't the year - the athletes are still raw and learning - but next year, after Licata and Campbell have a year of experience, should be.
That hinges, of course, on Licata getting experience and Campbell staying involved in the game plan when Oliver returns. If next year isn't the year, with these players on the roster, there's only one place for the blame to fall: coaching.
Head coach Jeff Quinn has made some sage coaching decisions this year, showing much improvement compared to previous years.
It will all be for naught, though, if he doesn't give Licata the reins and keep Campbell involved.
Coach Quinn, it's time to make moves.
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