UB’s ‘O’ won’t work without Bo
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
You could feel the air shift. UB Stadium paused for a moment. All went silent. It was as if Buffalo’s biggest offensive lineman had wound up and clobbered everyone in attendance, all 14,373, square in the stomach.
The moment? Junior running back Branden Oliver walked out of the locker room at the start of the second half without his pads. Leg injury. Done for the night.
Worst-case scenario. How did this – how could this – happen?
Accompanied by a trainer and his father, Oliver looked more dejected than I’d ever seen him before.
This was Bo Oliver. This was the ever-gregarious, always-smiling, self-assured tank who has cemented his spot as UB’s greatest football player of all-time. The same athlete who could bench press your family and leave a 250-pound linebacker on his posterior never even hints at a frown. He doesn’t get hurt. He doesn’t show weakness.
Oliver hung his head when he walked out of that locker room. It was killing him to miss the game. Buffalo was down 10-7 to a conference rival, Kent State, and had just gained momentum thanks to a successful Hail Mary to close the first half.
UB’s hope rides on Oliver. That’s no secret. Junior Alex Neutz is an incredible receiver, but he can’t do very much if he doesn’t have a quarterback who can get him the ball. Junior quarterback Alex Zordich struggled Wednesday night with Oliver missing.
It wasn’t a coincidence. In the first two weeks – with a healthy Oliver scampering for 349 yards and three touchdowns – Zordich went a combined 30 for 45 for 385 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Against Kent State – without Bo for the majority of the game – Zordich went 4 for 22 for 92 yards (46 of which came on one play), one touchdown and two interceptions.
“Offensively, we just weren’t there today,” said Zordich after the game.
Just the threat of Oliver running the ball opens passing lanes. With he and promising No. 2 back sophomore James Potts out with injuries, opposing defenses don’t need to respect the run. After the Bulls’ 56-34 win over Morgan State two weeks ago, Senior Sports Editor Nathaniel Smith said: “The Bulls will run Branden Oliver 40 or 50 times if they need to.”
Oh no,I thought, this is going to ruin the season. Nate had a point: the Bulls would have a much better chance of winning every game if they were to hand it off to Bo every play. He trains harder than anyone and simply doesn’t get worn down. It’s uncanny.
Lest we forget Oliver is still human. He might not get worn down, but he will get hurt.
As a result, the very same UB team that looked so impressive the first two weeks of the season lost 23-7 to Kent State, a team notorious for not knowing which way to run. Buffalo looked atrocious, but the Bulls were going to win that game – or at least come close – if Bo kept playing.
He finished the game with 16 carries for 77 yards and didn’t even play the end of the first half. Oliver would have had another 150-yard, maybe even 200-yard game if he hadn’t gotten hurt. Kent State couldn’t stop him, but you can’t fault the Golden Flashes; nothing can stop Oliver. Nothing, that is, except an injury.
I wrote a column last week about Buffalo’s dynamic offense, which really is vigorous when its top players are healthy. But Potts is done for the season and Oliver is hurt, though the extent of his injury was unknown when The Spectrum went to print.
After Wednesday’s game, he tweeted: “I want to thank my family, friends, and fans for there support it is much needed always thanks for being the shoulder I can lean on.” When I spoke with him Thursday, he said he’ll heal quickly in Jesus’ name.
That’s who Branden Oliver is. He’s staying optimistic.
It’s admirable. But if Bo ends up missing extended time, there’s no reason for fans to be optimistic about the rest of this season.
There’s the real stomach punch.