Correction: The original version of this story listed the wrong quarterback on the final interception thrown. It was Kyle Vantrease, not walk-on Todd LaRocca.
The University at Buffalo pass defense took center stage at the annual Blue & White Scrimmage Friday night. UB’s defense made seven interceptions in the 83-play intra-squad event.
The Bulls’ interception total for the entire 2016 season: five, which ranked last in the Mid-American Conference.
“One of the concerns as we went through most of the spring was the consistency of our secondary,” said UB coach Lance Leipold. “To see them step up and make that many plays tonight is encouraging heading into summer conditioning.”
UB starting quarterback Tyree Jackson threw two of the pickoffs.
The first was a throw-away, a desperation heave deep into the end zone on a third-and-17 play from the defense’s 46. Cornerback Cameron Lewis picked it off at the goal line.
But the next Jackson interception was a great defensive play by promising redshirt freshman linebacker Kadofi Wright, who has worked his way onto the defense’s second unit. Wright showed impressive speed in stepping in front of an out pass for tight end Tyler Mabry toward the sideline. Wright returned it 25 yards.
“It was all the coaches’ idea to run a trail defense,” Wright said. “I had to put my hands on the receiver as much as I could, and once he broke out, I broke underneath. I tried to go back to the house but Tyree’s too fast.”
No. 2 quarterback Drew Anderson threw two interceptions, both picked off by safety Jeremiah Dadeboe. Freshman QB Kyle Vantrease threw three INTs, one picked off by cornerback Craig Hardgers and one by safety Ryan Williamson. On the last play of the scrimmage, linebacker Jordan Collier returned an interception from Vantrease 55 yards for a TD.
Tyree report: Jackson, the 6-foot-7 sophomore from Michigan, had good moments despite the two pickoffs. The offense was stopped on his first three possessions. Then Jackson directed four straight touchdown drives.
He was 11 of 16 passing for 132 yards and two TDs. He also had five runs for 36 yards (not counting sacks) and one rushing TD.
Jackson's first TD pass was a sharp throw, a 4-yard back-shoulder strike to the side of the end zone for walk-on receiver Chris Spell. It beat a blitz. The second TD was a 23-yard lofted strike to Mabry, a promising sophomore from Michigan.
“That was a great play by T,” Jackson said. “I thought I overthrew him at first but he sped up. He’s going to be a good tight end for us this year.”
Leipold was relatively happy with the starting offense’s showing.
“I like where our offense is heading,” he said. “It was very vanilla tonight in what we did. So I don’t know if it’s really a true evaluation of what they’re going to be.”
Shimmy-shake: Jackson did a squatting-twist dance after running 3 yards for a TD. It didn't remind anyone of Bruno Mars.
“That’s the Kodak Black dance,” Jackson laughed. “We’ve got some teammates from Florida, and that’s a little rapper in Florida. We’re not doing that in any games.”
Starting offense: LT Jacquis Webb, LG Brandon Malosalvas, C James O’Hagan, RG Skylar Hartley, RT David Goldsby, QB Tyree Jackson, RB Theo Anderson, TE Tyler Mabry, WR Kamathi Holsey, WR Anthony Johnson, WR Jamarl Eiland.
Starting defense: DE Charles Harris, DT Chris Ford, DT Justin Brandon, DE Myles Nicholas, OLB Jarrett Franklin, MLB Khalil Hodge, OLB Jordan Collier, CB Cameron Lewis, CB Tatum Slack, S Ryan Williamson, S Tim Roberts.
Sitting out: Projected starters recovering from injury who sat out were: RB Johnathan Hawkins, DE Demone Harris and CB Brandon Williams. Among the reserves who sat out were: QB Dominic Johnson, RB Emmanuel Reed, WR Jacob Martinez, TE Julien Bourassa, DT Christian Gonzalez, LB Nikolas Ricks, S Dev Lamour, S Dawun Hylton.
Passing: Anderson, a 6-5 junior, was 8 of 13 for 80 yards.
Rushing: Kameron Pickett, a redshirt freshman from Georgia, rushed eight times for 49 yards and scored on a 6-yard run off left guard. Theo Anderson, a redshirt freshman from Florida, rushed eight times for 22 yards.
Receiving: Spell caught four passes for 74 yards. Mabry had three for 54. Tight end Zac Lefebvre had four for 17, and receiver Jamarl Eiland had three for 40.
Tackles: Franklin had five tackles, and Wright and Charles Harris had four apiece. Sophomore defensive Duke Hwang (Williamsville North) had two sacks.
INT report: On the first INT, Lewis had good position deep downfield. Johnson, the intended receiver, could have broken up the pass but got turned around and didn't make a play on the ball. The second INT, by Hardgers, came on a pass for tight end Andrew Gray. The ball bounced off Gray's hands (MLB Matt Otwinowski had good coverage and may have tipped it) and into the arms of the cornerback. The fourth INT, by Dadeboe, came at the 2-yard line on a pass deep down the left sideline for Johnson. Good play by the safety. The fifth INT, by Williamson, was a bad throwing decision, put into double coverage. The sixth INT was a pass a tad too high for Lefebvre. It went off the tight end's fingertips and into the arms of Dadeboe. The last INT by Collier was a read of the QB all the way on a hitch route.
Other scores: Anderson capped a 75-yard march on his first drive of the scrimmage with a 4-yard pass to Lefebvre on a third-down play. It was a good read and an on-time throw into a tight window. Pickett showed hard running on his TD, which capped a 51-yard drive. The key play of that drive was the best running play of the night. Pickett bounced off right end for a 23-yard gain to the 18. . . . Adam Mitcheson was good from 37 yards on his lone field-goal attempt.
In the house: The crowd was about 400.
Up next: UB summer training camp will start in early August. The season opener is at the University of Minnesota on a Thursday night, Aug. 31.