UB football raises quarterback questions

Grant Rohach starting in Friday’s game, but freshman sensation Tyree Jackson looms


Is it possible to have too many good quarterbacks?

UB's head football coach Lance Leipold must be asking himself that question right now.

In his first season as head coach last year, Leipold inherited UB’s all-time leader in passing yards, Joe Licata. This year, he’s already seen one of his top quarterback options, Chris Merchant, transfer out of the program, but he still faces a very tough and unconventional quarterback dilemma.

Grant Rohach, a senior transfer from Iowa State, will start at quarterback for the Bulls’ season opener Friday night against Albany at UB Stadium. However, Leipold said after Tuesday’s practice at UB Stadium, freshman quarterback Tyree Jackson will play in the game as well.

The only thing that seems to be set in stone is that the quarterback depth chart is written in pencil, not pen.

Leipold has told both of his quarterbacks that he has no specific ratio of snaps in mind for either of them to play on Friday and that how much each quarterback will play will “depend on the flow of the game.”

“If you start saying, ‘you’re going to go in the third series,’ all of a sudden the other guy’s barely got a chance,” Leipold said. “So it can go a lot of ways, we’re just going to wait and see how the game plays out, but we’re very confident knowing that we’re going to get [Jackson] in.”

Leipold acknowledges that he will likely use Friday’s game against Albany, a Division I-AA school, as a chance to get an extended look at several position battles throughout the team. With the bye week scheduled for week two, there will be another week of practice to decide who will be the starter before UB faces its first big game of the year at Nevada on Sept. 17. Although Rohach has been named the starter, the clear vibe at Tuesday’s practice was that all eyes will be on Jackson Friday night.

A six-foot-seven, 245-pound dual-threat quarterback with a rocket arm, Jackson looks every bit the part of a program-altering player for the Bulls. The only question is whether or not he’ll be ready to take the reins as a freshman after a redshirt season last year.

“I feel like I’m ready,” Jackson said. “I feel like the coaches did a good job of preparing me and I learned a lot from the past quarterback Joe Licata.”

Jackson may not have participated in last year’s games but he was present as a member of the team, which gives him a level of experience with other players.

Leipold has also made it clear that he has no reservations about starting a freshman at quarterback if Jackson does in fact win the job.

“There has to be a first time, whether he’s a sophomore or a freshman.” Leipold said. “The nice thing for Tyree is he was mentored by Joe Licata and also Tony Daniel. We traveled Tyree all last year with the purpose that he was going to be ready to be a starter this year. He stayed in the hotels, he’s been in visiting stadiums. Even though the plan was to redshirt him, he was with us for all that so he would be ready to go.”

Leipold also admitted that it’s “not off the table” that he will continue to use both quarterbacks throughout the season.

For Rohach, this would be nothing new.

“I think it was my redshirt freshman year at Iowa State, I got a couple of starts and we kind of switched off time, certain packages for the other QB, so yeah it’s a pretty familiar situation for me,” Rohach said.

When Rohach transferred into the program last year as a senior, many people expected him to be the starter in 2016, bridging the gap between Licata and Jackson. However, if he does end up losing the starting job at some point this season, he harbors no ill will.

Rohach’s decision to transfer stems from wanting to be at a school that wants him.

“You have to always compete wherever you go, so I knew the competing aspect would be there,” Rohach said. “I knew it was kind of my last chance to start and accomplish that, but there was no guarantee in my mind that I was going to get the starting spot.”

As of right now, the job is still Rohach’s to lose.

But Jackson isn’t going away and he continues to impress anyone who watches him – even his competition.

“He has tremendous potential,” Rohach said of Jackson. “He has the physical attributes to do whatever he wants. I also don’t think people give him enough credit for how smart he is and how well he learns, he does take it seriously in the meeting room and in following what coach says.”

Jackson is clearly the future of Buffalo’s football program, but can he be the present?

“I have yet to be disappointed by Tyree Jackson in any way,” Leipold said.

If that trend continues, Friday could be the start of something very big for the Bulls program.

Michael Akelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at michael.akelson@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter @mikeakelson.