Position-by-Position Breakdowns: Running backs
Published: Thursday, August 29, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 30, 2013 00:08
If you question the importance of depth, look no further than the Bulls’ backfield last season. In just the third game of the season, senior running back Branden Oliver left the game with an injury and was sidelined until the eighth game.
Last season, Oliver recorded 821 yards on the ground. Buffalo, as a team, averaged 160.9 yards per game in those seven contests – with Oliver totaling 72.9 percent of the backfield’s production.
In the five games Oliver didn’t play, the Bulls’ halfbacks averaged 111.6 yards per game – still a strong number, but a significant drop-off without their leader.
Head coach Jeff Quinn made it clear Oliver will be the workhorse in a “crowded backfield.”
“We are going to hand the ball off to Branden Oliver,” Quinn said. “He knows that and is excited about the opportunity. [He] certainly has a chance to put himself in an elite group with one great tailback, James Starks. He’s an exciting player, certainly one of the best in the league, one of the best in the country and has a chance to do something really special behind that offensive line.”
Starks, a UB alumnus, won Super Bowl XLV as a running back on the Green Bay Packers.Oliver currently sits fourth in school history in rushing yards (2,541) and is just 600 yards from passing Starks for No. 1.
If you spoke with Oliver, however, you would think his job was in jeopardy every time he touched the ball. He has the utmost respect for his teammates and believes any of them could carry the load of the offense.
“I’ve been trying to tell peopleI’m not the only back in the backfield who can do things,” Oliver said. “We have Anthone Taylor, James Potts, Brandon Murie and Devin Campbell.”
It was clear, however, the Buffalo offense missed Oliver’s presence in the backfield. The Bulls’ average point total dropped a whole touchdown – from 24 to 17 points per game – in the games Oliver missed.
The Bulls averaged over 365 yards a game when Oliver suited up and recorded three victories. Oliver tallied 33 percent of the total yards for the team. In the five games he did not take the field, Buffalo won once and was held without touchdowns twice.
When it comes to Oliver's health and state of mind, he knows he still has unfinished business in front of him.
“I feel like I’m more than 100 percent,” Oliver said. “I feel God put me through last season to show he has something left in store for me.”
As long as he is able to stay healthy, expect to see No. 32 with the football often.
When sophomore running back Anthone Taylor was sidelined with a knee injury last season, he continued learning.
Once he was cleared to return to the field, the learning never stopped. The opportunity to play behind one of the best running backs in the conference, senior Branden Oliver, has helped form Taylor’s game.
“It’s a great experience because not only do I have a great coach, but I have a great player that I can learn with on the field and just see what he goes through every day,” Taylor said. “We have the same kind of work ethic. I want to have the same intensity he puts himself through.”
Taylor had a long road of rehab assignments in order to return to the field. He hopes to prove himself a back capable of spelling Oliver in order to keep the star fresh throughout the game.
In doing so, he wants to see his hard work push the rest of the backfield.
“It’s not about a competition,” Taylor said. “We are all coming together as a team. We know that as each guy works, he puts that pressure on the guy in front of him. It just gives you that much more of a competitive edge against the next team.”
For Taylor, his personal motivation is to make up for lost time. He feels like he needs to contribute even more after missing the entirety of 2012.