A fresh start

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The Spectrum

Following the departure of Turner Gill in December, questions surfaced at UB Stadium as to whether or not the football program would fall back to the bottom of Division I football, where it had been a mainstay since entering the Mid-American Conference in 1998.

Head coach Jeff Quinn has laid all questions to rest.

Buffalo's new head coach has brought a new energy to Amherst and has transitioned nicely into his job as sideline commander.

The season kicked off on Saturday afternoon at UB Stadium when the team held its annual Blue White Spring Game. With the offense in white and the defense donning blue uniforms, the team gave Bulls nation a glimpse of what's to come for the upcoming fall season.

Quinn got a chance to evaluate his team for the first time in a real game atmosphere as the White team defeated the Blue team, 49-41.

"I felt there was a lot of energy and there was a high level of tenacity and physicality," Quinn said. "We asked our kids to play fast, play strong, play physical, but at the same time understand that it's the spring game."

Sophomore quarterback Jerry Davis started the game for the Bulls and turned in a workmanlike performance. He completed 12-of-20 passes for 113 yards and avoided making any mistakes, which is something Quinn feels is very important.

The surprise of the day

may have been the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Dennison, who outperformed Davis on the afternoon. Despite throwing an interception, Dennison went 19-of-29 for 210 yards with two touchdowns through the air and one rushing score.

Dennison looked confident on the field and was accurate throughout the game. Quinn thinks both players will be important pieces to the Bulls' attack.

"We're going to need them both," Quinn said. "We need to keep developing them and allowing them to grow throughout the summer. It's going to be a competitive situation between the two of them."

Dennison had good chemistry with his receivers and displayed a good rapport with redshirt freshman wide receiver Alex Neutz.

Neutz is another local product at receiver and played his high school football at Grand Island High School. He led the way for the Bulls with 106 receiving yards in the game and made an outstanding play to score on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Dennison.

After getting a step on the defender, Neutz caught a slightly awkward pass over his right shoulder and displayed impressive footwork in tiptoeing the sideline for the touchdown.

After the game, Neutz gave all the credit to his coaching staff and his teammates.

"It was great play calling by the coaches," Neutz said. "Everybody was doing their part. The offensive line was blocking, the quarterbacks were making their reads, so I couldn't have done it without the team."

Dennison also connected with junior wide receiver Terrell Jackson on an 11-yard touchdown after fellow junior wide out Marcus Rivers set up the score on a 59-yard reception.

Rivers is hoping to erase memories of last season in which the pass catcher struggled with catching.

"New coaching staff, new offense, new me," Rivers said. "It's all about confidence and coach Quinn is instilling confidence in me and the players around me."

Coming into the game, the defensive unit was thought to be a step ahead of the offense because of the new spread offense that has been installed by Quinn. With the help of a balanced running game, the offense looked sharp and kept up with defense.

The play of the offensive unit impressed senior safety Davonte Shannon.

"I think they played equal to us today," Shannon said. "They came out fighting and we had them up against the ropes. But they came back and made plays. I'm really proud of them today."

Shannon showed why he has been a three-time first-team All-MAC selection with a dominating performance for the Blue squad. Shannon recorded four tackles, two pass break-ups and the only interception of the game.

His experience and leadership qualities will be a key for the Bulls this season. He will anchor a defensive unit that is expected to be better then ever.

The injury woes of senior running back Ike Nduka continued in the Spring Game. He looked very good early on after running for 27 yards on three carries but had to leave the game with a shoulder injury.

Sophomore running back Jeffvon Gill led the Bulls on the ground, racking up 43 yards on 13 carries.

The summer promises to be a time of preparation for the Bulls as they look ahead to next season and continue to get used to the coaching staffs new schemes. Quinn knows that his team is a work in progress but is excited to see what the future holds.

"We have a long way to go," Quinn said. "But I know for a fact that we are on the right course…It's going to be an exciting year and it's going to be 12 great football games ahead of us so I'm looking forward to it."

E-mail: sports@ubspectrum.com