MINNEAPOLIS – Anthony Johnson made a smashing debut at wide receiver for the University at Buffalo Thursday night.
The junior college transfer from South Carolina caught 11 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Bulls' 17-7 loss to the Golden Gophers.
It was just the kind of impact UB has been hoping for from the 6-foot-2, 207-pounder.
Johnson was a prized recruit for UB a year ago but coach Lance Leipold opted to redshirt him in 2016 because he was new to the program and missed time to injury in training camp.
Johnson runs a blazing 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash. He is a cousin of NFL stars Jadeveon Clowney and Johnathan Joseph of the Houston Texans and of former Bills safety Jonathan Meeks. He was first-team all-state in basketball as a high school senior in addition to starring in football.
Johnson set up UB's first-quarter touchdown with a 50-yard catch down the right sideline. On the next play, he ran a fade route down the right sideline and caught a 16-yard TD pass from Tyree Jackson.
"Anybody that's been around our program since last spring knows we thought we had a pretty good football player in him," said UB coach Lance Leipold. "Last year we thought maybe we'd get five or six good games out of him. I made the decision we'd take 24-plus, hopefully."
That means Leipold figured Johnson could be the No. 1 weapon from the start of the season with a full offseason of work in the program.
UB targeted Johnson 19 times and also gave him one handoff.
"It felt great," Johnson said. "It was great to play on TV. My family got to see me play. I just wanted to put on a show for them. They haven't seen me play since high school, since I came here from a junior college. It was a great experience."
Big INT: UB junior cornerback Cam Lewis kept the Bulls close with an interception in the end zone late in the first half. Minnesota drove 79 yards and faced a third-and-goal play from the 5. The Gophers lined up 6-foot-5 tight end Brandon Lingen alone on the left side of a four-receiver set against the 5-11 Lewis. It's a formation the New England Patriots use a lot to take advantage of Rob Gronkowski's size.
Conor Rhoda lobbed a pass up to his big target but Lewis read the play all the way and stepped in front. The turnover kept UB within 14-7 at the half. Lewis was superb in coverage, repeatedly preventing deep sideline completions.
PK worries: UB's junior place-kicker, Adam Mitcheson, missed kicks from 40 and 36 yards in the first half, plays that could have pulled UB within 14-13 at intermission. The 40-yarder was wide right. The 36-yarder was too low and was blocked. Mitcheson was 11 of 18 on field-goal tries last season. The position is a worry. Conversely, punter Kyle DeWeen was superb. He had eight punts for a 42-yard net average. Six were fair-caught, and three had exceptional hang times of 4.55 seconds or better.
Donor contingent: UB athletic director Allen Greene brought along about 40 members of his department's "shareholders society." They are the group of top donors whose contributions over the past five years have provided the funding that allowed UB to get its new $18 million fieldhouse approved. An announcement is expected in the next few weeks on a date for ground-breaking for the facility, which will be located outside the scoreboard end of UB Stadium.
QB stats: UB's Tyree Jackson was 22 of 42 for 211 yards. Rhoda and Demry Croft combined to go 19 of 32 for 239 yards for the Gophers.
Said Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck: "That quarterback, you're going to see him in the NFL. He is going to be that next MAC quarterback that comes up. You saw some of the throws he made today. We didn't want anything getting behind us. We wanted to keep it all in front of us and beat us with a 14-, 15-play drive."
One missed opportunity by Jackson came in the second quarter. UB ran a double-reverse flea-flicker, with Johnson handing to Jacob Martinez, who pitched back to the QB. Receiver K.J. Osborn was wide open 40 yards downfield but Jackson underthrew him and a Gophers safety was able to recover and make a break-up.
Young Bulls: UB brought a young offensive cast into its season-opener Thursday at the University of Minnesota. UB has five returning starters on offense, and four of its offensive starters are sophomores. UB's breakdown by class on its two-deep roster is 11 seniors, 17 juniors, 10 sophomores and six freshmen. On UB's season-opening two-deep roster, 11 of 22 offensive players are freshman or sophomores. The defense is the more experienced, with only five of 22 players freshman or sophomores.
UB starting offense: QB Tyree Jackson, RB Johnathan Hawkins, TE Tyler Mabry, WR Anthony Johnson, WR Jacob Martinez, WR Kamathi Holsey, LT Evin Ksiezarczyk, LG Brandon Manosalvas, C James O'Hagan, RG Tomas Jack-Kurdyla, RT Jacquis Webb.
UB starting defense: DE Demone Harris, DT Chris Ford, DT Justin Brandon, DE Charles Harris, OLB Jarrett Franklin, MLB Khalil Hodge, OLB Jordan Collier, CB Cameron Lewis, S Tim Roberts, S Ryan Williamson, CB Tatum Slack.
Big 10 and MAC: Minnesota is 31-4-1 all-time against Mid-American Conference schools.
Counting the house: Attendance was 43,224.
Up next: UB visits Army for a game at noon on Sept. 9.
Story topics: UB football