UB running back Jordan Johnson is the real deal and more people should notice

Jordan Johnson proved last week he has what it takes to be a No. 1 back for the Buffalo football team.

Thursday’s game will prove he isn’t a fluke.

The Bulls’ (3-4, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) short-week game is about more than a matchup against one of the worst teams in the MAC in Miami Ohio (1-7, 0-4 MAC).

This game is about planning for the future.

Johnson, a junior running back, is the immediate successor to senior running back Anthone Taylor. Once Taylor graduates after this season, it will be Johnson’s backfield.

His first start last Saturday resulted in a career game. His second this Thursday could very well do the same.

Taylor has been an instrumental member of the Bulls since he was the backup to Branden Oliver in 2013. In his two seasons as a starting back, he has exceeded expectations and is hovering just below Oliver and James Starks as the most prolific backs in Bulls history.

But Taylor’s lingering ankle injury is still bothering him. He is expected to travel and dress with the team for the second straight game, but it is uncertain how much he will play if at all.

It doesn’t mean that Taylor’s Buffalo career is over by any means.

There are still four games after this upcoming matchup. Barring no more injury, Taylor should be 100 percent for the final month of his college career. He’ll still be the No. 1 back and get the majority of touches over Johnson and freshman Jonathan Hawkins.

But for another week, Bulls fans will get a glimpse into the future of the program.

Johnson, who attended Sweet Home High School just down the road from campus, has always been No. 2 to Taylor. And it’s not his fault. At one point last season, Taylor was a top-5 rusher in the country and recorded three straight games of 200-plus yards rushing.

But with Taylor out, Johnson is the clear-cut No. 1 back.

Johnson simply dominated the Ohio (5-3, 2-2 MAC) defense last week. He ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 28 touches in the 41-17 Buffalo victory. Production like that can’t go unnoticed. Head coach Lance Leipold said he is happy that he has two running backs that can go the entire game if needed.

Everyone overlooked Johnson in the past, including myself. Taylor was the star. Johnson was backup who spent this first two years redshirting and sitting out with an elbow injury.

Perhaps all Johnson needed was a chance.

A glance at his numbers surprised me. In games he carried the ball more than nine times last season and he averaged more than 4 yards per carry.

In his eight games played last season, he had games of 97 and 104 rushing yards. Earlier this season, he rushed for 79 yards on 13 carries against Nevada. It doesn’t jump off the page but that’s an average of 6.1 yards per carry. He also leads the team this season with five rushing touchdowns.

On the season, he averages 4.8 yards per carry – 0.1 more than Taylor. I’m not a sabermetric fanatic, but those are types of numbers you want to see from a starting running back.

Johnson, albeit a small sample size, has been doing what everyone is just now praising him for since last season. The only difference is his number of touches.

Thursday’s game is much more than just a conference game. This is truly the first time where Johnson has had a full week to practice with the first team squad knowing full well he is more than likely to be the starting running back. And just like last week, he will expect to see more than 25 carries as the workhorse of the backfield.

He should be able to run over a weak RedHawk defense. I’m predicting at least 100 yards and a touchdown on the ground from him. It is also a moment to prove any remaining skeptics wrong that he is able to hold down the Buffalo backfield once Taylor graduates.

He’s at least proved one wrong.

Jordan Grossman is the senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com.