Spring check-in: UB football
Bulls look to build off last season's success
Seven overtimes against Western Michigan, two one-point losses, three different starting quarterbacks and an upset win over Ohio made up the Bulls’ third bowl-eligible season in school history. Despite a three-game winning streak to end last year’s season and producing over 400 yards of offense per game, the Bulls weren’t selected for a bowl. UB was one of the three eligible teams in the country that weren’t selected.
“Our coach really preached to us that we weren’t really snubbed,” said sophomore quarterback Tyree Jackson . “6-6 isn’t guaranteed, so we got to show the rest of the country that we deserve a bowl game, and the only way to do that is to win more and more games.”
The football team finished 6-6 this season and reached bowl eligibility for the first time under head coach Lance Leipold. This season’s success comes one year after 2016, where the team went 2-10. Jackson, along with junior wide receiver Anthony Johnson and junior linebacker Khalil Hodge, know what it will take to make it back to bowl eligibility.
Friday concluded the football season until August, with the annual Blue & White Scrimmage. It was offense versus defense with the ball placed at various downs and distances to showcase the talent for the upcoming year.
“It feels good to see the young guys scoring touchdowns, making plays on some of our starters,” Johnson said. “Talk trash to them, get pumped up and get the new guys hype and ready for this year.”
Star duo Johnson and Jackson are returning on offense, along with sophomore running back Emmanuel Reed and sophomore wide receiver K.J. Osborn. The anchor of the offensive line, junior center James O’Hagan returns after being named to the All-MAC third team last season. Coming out of the Blue & White Scrimmage, there are still available starting positions.
“What you’re going to see is a really good battle at the running back position,” Leipold said. “We’ve seen flashes from every one of the guys this spring. That makes us very encouraged that there will be heavy competition in August.”
The running back position runs deep with Reed, junior Jonathan Hawkins, incoming redshirt freshman Kevin Marks and mid-year enrollee Jaret Patterson, all competing for snaps.
Wide receiver coach Rob Ianello saw the passing game rely on long passes to Johnson last season. He would finish with 800 more yards than the second leading receiver Kamathi Holsey. The three redshirt freshmen from last season, Isaiah King, Charlie Jones, and Rodney Scott III, all showed promise in spring, according to Leipold.
Defensively, the Bulls have returning All-MAC players in junior Khalil Hodge and junior defensive end Chuck Harris. The defensive group will have to fill the voids left by safety Tim Roberts and Demone Harris, another All-MAC selection who led the team in tackles last year.
“I don’t know about solidifying, I think what we like is the group of rotations,” Leipold said. “I think Myles Nicholas and [Malcolm] Koonce had some excellent springs. Taylor Riggins is another guy that continues to impress us. Ledarius Mack is definitely going to have a role in passing situations. That makes us feel good.”
Mack, who played two seasons at ASA College, is the younger brother of former UB standout Khalil Mack and wears the same number 52. He treated Bulls fans to a familiar sight with a sack in the scrimmage.
“As a whole I think some of the new guys stepped up,” Hodge said. “The new guys Tim Terry, Kadofi Wright, Jordan Collier, a lot of the linebackers. The cornerbacks had a good day, the defensive line, we’re all working and getting ready for the season.”
The Bulls are expected to have their best season since 2013 and find some consistency. Since joining the MAC in 1998, the team has failed to do .500 or better for two consecutive seasons.
“I was on that 2-10 team and for some of the guys we take both seasons into account,” Hodge said. “With the 6-6 record and each game being so close, we know what it takes to get into that fourth quarter and finish. We have a veteran group of guys this year and we understand what we have to do.”
Nathaniel Mendelson is the asst. sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org