The wide receiving corps looked alive at the University at Buffalo’s scrimmage Saturday. The Bulls hope it’s a sign of better things to come this season.
Seniors Jacob Martinez and Kamathi Holsey each caught two touchdown passes and junior Anthony Johnson had one in the roughly 100-play session at UB Stadium.
The Bulls open their season in 19 days at the University of Minnesota.
UB ranked last in the Mid-American Conference in scoring last year and sixth in MAC games in passing yards. The top three receiving targets from last year graduated. The returning wideouts combined to average only four catches and 49 yards per game.
There’s reason to expect improvement. Junior speedster Anthony Johnson, who sat out as a junior college transfer last season, has looked great in training camp. He had a pretty, 25-yard TD catch.
Martinez, a 6-foot senior from Florida, had six catches for 70 yards, including scoring grabs of 22 and 25 yards.
Martinez missed much of last season after breaking his collarbone in training camp. He had played a lot in 2014 and ’15, and UB missed his quickness.
“It was tough because I’m coming in last year hoping I’m going to have a big year, either in a backup role or starting role,” Martinez said. “When I got back, I was a little rusty.”
Martinez’s first score was up the sideline after cornerback Cam Lewis bit on an underneath fake. Quarterback Tyree Jackson saw the mistake and made the easy throw. The second score was a touch pass over the middle that beat a blitz.
“I had to stem Tim Roberts, try to get inside of him,” Martinez said of the UB safety. “Tyree lobbed it up there just where I could get to it. That just shows you the connection we’re starting to get.”
Holsey has ideal size at 6-4, 215. He started last year and had 19 catches for 189 yards. But he took time to adjust to the MAC level after transferring from junior college and had some trouble getting off press coverage. He looks more comfortable.
Holsey made a diving grab for a 47-yard pass to the deep middle. Jackson made a fine back-shoulder throw to him on a 14-yard TD. Holsey used his size on a 16-yard fade-pattern TD.
“Kamathi is ready to take the next step in his game,” said UB coach Lance Leipold. “The latter part of this week he’s kind of been up and down and we’ve challenged him a little bit. The good thing is when you challenge the upper classmen and see him come out and play the way he has. From the day we signed him we were excited about what he could give our offense. To see it come out today is a great sign.”
UB emphasized the run game in its first scrimmage last week. Saturday’s session was pass-oriented.
QB rotation: Jackson had a strong showing. Following him in the quarterback rotation were junior Drew Anderson, freshman Kyle Vantrease and red-shirt freshman Dominic Johnson.
RB rotation: Projected starter Johnathan Hawkins, a junior from Georgia, is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He did individual drills but no contact work. He’s still projected to be ready for the opener.
“He’s doing more,” Leipold said. “As we get closer to the game everything points that he’ll be ready to go.”
Sophomore Emmanuel Reed took the first snaps in Hawkins’ place and again showed burst. Red-shirt freshmen Theo Anderson and Kameron Pickett followed Reed in the rotation. True freshman Kevin Marks of Virginia carried 12 times for 61 yards against the third string.
LT battle: Junior Jacquis Webb, a transfer from Rutgers, saw most of the snaps with the starting unit at left tackle. He’s in a battle with West Seneca sophomore Evin Ksiezarczyk, who has seen the majority of the starting snaps overall this summer. The other starters on the offensive line were left guard Brandon Manosalvas, center James O’Hagan, right guard Tomas Jack-Kurdyla and right tackle David Goldsby.
Rain: It rained steadily for the last 45 snaps of the scrimmage.
Defensive TDs: The defense got two scores on long returns of fumble recoveries. Second-team linebacker Kadofi Wright returned one 55 yards after a bad handoff exchange between Drew Anderson and Pickett. Freshman cornerback Ali Abbas returned one 40 yards after a bad snap went over Drew Anderson’s head. True freshman defensive end Jaylin Nolden also recovered a fumble.
Quotable: “I thought our offense came out and showed some ability to be balanced and strike with some big plays,” Leipold said. “The way the weather changed, our first unit handled it really well. Defensively, we have to step some things up. We’ve got to come out of the gate better and make more plays. That being said, we capitalized on a couple fumbles and scored a couple touchdowns that way.”
Injured: Red-shirt sophomore defensive tackle Duke Hwang (Williamsville North) suffered a foot injury in practice. He’s expected to miss significant time.
D-Line rotations: The first defensive line was Demone Harris, Chris Ford, Justin Brandon and Charles Harris. The second team was usually Malcolm Koonce (a true freshman), Jake Khoury, Wesley Scott and Myles Nicholas. The third unit was mostly Nolden, Chibueze Onwuka, Christian Gonzalez and Frendy Darelus. Koonce continues to create pressure.