UB Bulls linebackers form an unlikely trio
Alozie, Gilbo and Berry form one of the MAC’s better – and unlikely – linebacking cores
The Buffalo football’s team current starting linebacker trio was never supposed to be.
Nick Gilbo was a walk on. Okezie Alozie is a converted defensive back. Brandon Berry is a converted defensive back that needed an injury to Jarrett Franklin just to get a chance.
But this surprising unit, playing under a brand new scheme and new positions, have created one of the more dominant linebacking trios in the Mid-American Conference and lead the Bulls (2-4, 0-2 MAC) in tackles this the season while creating a wall in the middle of the defense.
“Our group is working really well,” Alozie said, “but we still have ways to go as a unit and as a defense. One thing I know is that guys are playing hard and we’re going to continue the hard work throughout the season. We have to.”
Berry, who leads the Bulls and ranks sixth in the MAC in tackles, said he’s been “comfortable” in making the transition from safety, adding that he likes to play in the box.
“It’s been a transition, but one that I’ve been fine with,” Berry said. “There’s some difference between the two, plays and where to be, but ultimately, I’m comfortable playing in the box and being able to make plays in the middle of the field.”
Berry rarely played his first two seasons and was slated to be a backup again this season until junior linebacker Jarrett Franklin went down with a back injury. Franklin hasn’t played a game this season.
The trio has been great, both as tacklers and playmakers on the field. Berry, Alozie and Gilbo have combined for 4.5 of the team’s 12 sacks on the year, three forced fumbles and 15 of the team’s 27 tackles for losses.
Production has never been an issue for Alozie.
Since joining the starting lineup in the 2013 season, Alozie has been one of the best defenders on the Bulls, finishing his first season with 45 tackles, one sack and 2.5 tackles for losses. Last season, Alozie remained a constant defensive presence, adding another 49 tackles to his resume, to go with three sacks and five tackles for losses.
This year, Alozie is on pace to eclipse his numbers as a junior, with 38 tackles, two sacks and two tackles for losses already. He’s also been a force in jarring the ball away from ball carriers, proved by his two forced fumbles this season.
With the trio’s success early in the season, Alozie said the unit has worked “well” but could get better and will have to as the season continues.
A former walk-on, Nick Gilbo finally received a scholarship from the Bulls in 2013 and slowly made his way toward a starting role. After redshirting in 2012, Gilbo played a reserve role for the Bulls during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
But as a senior and starting middle linebacker this season, Gilbo’s 52 tackles put him second on the team in that category and he’s started in all six of Buffalo’s games. Despite his success, Gilbo said the success of the linebackers has been a team effort.
“We’re doing good, but it’s not just us out there,” Gilbo said. “We’re allowed to do what we can on the field because of the guys behind us and ahead of us. If they don’t make the right plays, it’s tough for us to do our job. It’s not just us three or one guy doing everything, we go and work as a unit.”
And working as a unit is something the Bulls must do to fix the defense.
The defense has struggled the past three weeks in losses to Nevada, Bowling Green and particularly to Central Michigan – when Buffalo allowed 463 total yards and 51 points.
Gilbo said the team just didn’t have it on Saturday.
“We had a hiccup,” Gilbo said. “We just couldn’t get it going and couldn’t play a great game. Game wise, we didn’t fit the right things, didn’t fit the right gaps and couldn’t get to the quarterback and those are important for us in any game if we want to walk off the field with the win.”
On Sunday, the Bulls host Ohio (5-2, 2-1 MAC), a team that’s been in the middle of the conference offensively so far this season. The Bobcats are eighth in the conference in scoring (26.7 points per game), ninth in total offense (384.9 yards per game) and sixth in the conference in total touchdowns with 23.
With the goal to snap the team’s three-game losing streak in mind, Berry said the goal is to come out strong and use this as a springboard to something greater for the Bulls this season.
“Last week was tough, but we have to go back, look at the film and correct it on the field,” Berry said. “Our goal for the reason of the season is to improve, but it’s also to win out. If we can make the corrections on the field; stopping the big plays and becoming a better tackling team, I think we’re a step closer to those goals.”
Quentin Haynes is the senior sports editor at the UB Spectrum and can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on twitter at @Haynes_Spectrum.