As UB football looks toward the future on the field, they must do the same on the sidelines

If Saturday night’s game at Nevada was supposed to be the start of a new era for UB’s football program, it’s safe to say it didn’t go quite as head coach Lance Leipold planned.

UB was blown out of the building Saturday night at Mackay Stadium, losing 38-14 in a game where there were few positives takeaways. Buffalo’s front seven, which was supposed to be a strength of the team coming into the year, was gashed for 352 rushing yards, including 174 yards and three touchdowns from junior running back James Butler. Nevada led the game 31-0 late in the third quarter before Buffalo finally got on the board with a 57-yard screen pass touchdown from Jackson to senior running back Jordan Johnson.

Freshman Tyree Jackson struggled for the most part in his first career start, going just 7-23 for 130 yards and a touchdown throwing the ball. He also added 87 yards on eight carries on the ground.

Although Buffalo still has time to right the ship, their performance in the first two games gives no indication that they will be able to do so this season.

This is a transition year for UB, and Leipold should, and most likely will, let Jackson play through the growing pains.

For Jackson, a road game against a tough Nevada team was a difficult situation for a freshman quarterback in his first career start to face. Saturday night’s game matched the furthest west UB has ever traveled for a road game in the program’s history. His first start may have been underwhelming, but his potential still remains immense.

Sophomore running back Johnathan Hawkins, a former three-star recruit from Georgia, is another young player on Buffalo’s offense with big time upside. He figures to continue the rich history of great running backs for Buffalo once Johnson graduates. Hawkins should see more touches this year than last. He carried nine times on Saturday for 53 yards as Johnson’s top backup.

Together, him and Jackson appear to have the makings of a dangerous backfield duo for Buffalo.

If this turns out to be a lost year for the Bulls as they transition to a new core of players and look towards the future, it’s fair to start wondering whether they have the right coach for the job. Buffalo has now lost its last five games under Leipold dating back to last season.

I’m not suggesting that Buffalo should hit the panic button and fire Leipold this early in the season. I’m not even saying Leipold should be on the hot seat just yet. But if Leipold can’t put a jolt into this team in the near future, it’s fair to wonder whether the former Division-III coach is in over his head at the Division-I level.

It would be tough to give up on Leipold this soon, but with the team seemingly hitting the reset button on the field with eyes on the future, the same questions must be asked on the sideline.

In Jackson, Buffalo is sitting on a rare talent it can’t afford to waste. The next few years will be pivotal for the program and UB needs to make sure it has the right coach for the job.

Should Buffalo continue to let Jackson and Leipold grow together, or is it time to go in another direction sooner rather than later?

The next few games should bring answers. If Buffalo continues to come out looking flat as they have in their first two games, it may be time to pull the plug.

Michael Akelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @mikeakelson