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UB hopes its defense is better equipped to handle Nevada run game

The University at Buffalo will see if its deeper, more experienced defensive front seven is better against the run when it visits the University of Nevada Saturday.

The Bulls gave up 289 yards rushing in losing to the Wolf Pack, 24-21, last September.

Nevada returns junior running back James Butler Jr., who gashed UB for a 91-yard run and finished with 177 yards on 16 carries. He runs behind an offensive line that returns four of five starters and is the top-ranked line in the Mountain West Conference.

“James Butler is an excellent back, and he broke a couple big runs against us,” said UB coach Lance Leipold. "It’s gap integrity and being where you’re supposed to be. You get one guy out of place and motion may move a safety a little more, and that allows it to get to that third level, and now you’ve got a big play."

Nevada also returns its top four receivers and senior quarterback Tyler Stewart. But the offense starts with the run game, which averaged 203 yards a game in conference last season.

“Looking at last year’s tape, there’s times on defense we had four true freshmen on the field,” Leipold said. “Now we’ve got a little more experience in that area. We’re going to have to play better. . . .

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Leipold declined to name a starting quarterback Tuesday and said he won’t make the starter official until Saturday. The coach wants to keep some uncertainty in the minds of Nevada coaches.

Red-shirt freshman Tyree Jackson clearly outplayed graduate student Grant Rohach in the opener against Albany. Jackson led UB to three scores in seven drives, and it would have been four scores if he hadn’t fumbled out of the end zone at the end of a 74-yard fourth-quarter march. Jackson rushed for 60 yards and was 14 of 25 passing for 125 yards. He threw one TD and had an interception on UB’s last drive. Rohach mounted one score in six drives and threw two interceptions in UB territory. He was 3 of 9 for 52 yards.

Nevada coach Brian Polian compared the 6-foot-7 Jackson to a “praying mantis” on Monday.

“He is going to be a very, very good player in the future, and he certainly has our attention right now,” Polian said at his Tuesday news conference. “He is a difference-maker. He’s just still young. I expect both quarterbacks to play. . . . I don’t think the offense changes significantly when either guy is in there. I do think that Jackson, if given the choice, would rather keep the ball and run.”

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Nevada opened its season with a 30-27 overtime win over Cal-Poly, a lower-division foe that runs a triple-option rushing attack. Last week Nevada lost at 18th-ranked Notre Dame, 39-10.

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Nevada running back Akeel Lynch, the St. Francis High product and transfer from Penn State, is questionable for Saturday’s game due to a concussion suffered against Notre Dame. He took a big blow to the head at the end of a 7-yard run. Lynch switched to Nevada for his final season of eligibility after graduating from Penn State in December. True freshman Jaxson Kincaide may fill Lynch’s No. 2 RB role.

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Polian, also a St. Francis High product, dropped Buffalo-themed music into the set list that was played during the Wolf Pack’s practice Tuesday. Polian is a big Goo Goo Dolls fan, and was among the roughly 60,000 that attended the band’s rain-soaked concert at City Hall on July 4, 2004. Polian said the songs Tuesday included the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Slide,” along with some Rick James music. One of Nevada’s players never had heard of the Goo Goo Dolls. Polian ordered him to write a one-page paper on the band, due Wednesday. . . . Saturday’s game will be televised by the Mountain West Network and also can be viewed online at the MWC site.

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UB used its early bye week last week to do some extra preparation on next week’s opponent, Army. UB spent two days working on defending Army’s triple-option offense.

“With last week being an open week, not getting too far ahead of ourselves, but playing a triple-option team a week from now in Army, our defense got a little extra time to prepare on that.”

Email: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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