Perhaps Joshua Cribbs should consider wearing a top hat instead of a helmet. It better suits his image as a magician, a guy who can pile up yards, then vanish into the end zone.
Need proof? Rewind the game film of Kent State's 42-16 win over Ohio University last week when the senior quarterback rushed for a personal-best 223 yards. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Cribbs ran for two touchdowns, including a 58-yarder, while completing 18 of 26 passes for 150 yards and another score. He even averaged nearly 50 yards on two punts.
During a staff meeting, University at Buffalo coach Jim Hofher mentioned that the Bulls were facing the best running back in the country this week.
"Don't you mean quarterback?" someone asked.
No, he meant running back. It just so happens Cribbs plays quarterback and is the closest thing college football has to Michael Vick.
"He is elusive," said UB defensive coordinator Tom Jones, whose job includes finding a way to contain Cribbs and Kent State (2-6 overall, 1-4 in the Mid-American Conference) when the Golden Flashes visit the Bulls (1-7, 1-5) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at UB Stadium. "You have to know where he is at every minute or every second of every play. You have to account for him."
Obviously, he's talented. Obviously, he's a dual threat. And he usually hits the Bulls over the head when the teams meet. In their last meeting, Cribbs accounted for 372 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in Kent's 34-24 victory. He didn't play in 2002 because of an injury but as a freshman in 2001, Cribbs hit 15 of 16 passes for 194 yards in the first half as Kent opened a 28-10 lead en route to a 35-13 romp.
"In his mind, the play is never over," Jones said. "He's going to find a way. If he can't make something happen himself, he's going to try and find a way to get the ball to one of his teammates and have them continue the play. He's a never-say-die guy."
Cribbs is one of 22 quarterbacks in Division I-A history to rush for at least 1,000 yards and pass for 1,000 twice. He needs 398 yards rushing in the next three games for another 1,000-yard rushing season, and 219 yards to become the MAC's career leader in rushing yards for a quarterback, ahead of Ohio's Kareem Wilson, who had 3,597 yards from 1995-98.
"He's phenomenal," said UB senior flanker Matt Knueven. "He's one of the better quarterbacks you'll see in college football, somebody that you hope to contain."
Ideally, you want to turn him into a passer. Then again, the Bulls didn't exactly shine in the secondary against Marshall when Stan Hill carved them up for 269 yards and four TDs two weeks ago.
"The game plan is going to be about his ability to break out of the pocket and make plays on his own," said UB junior linebacker Bryan Cummings. "We just have to be able to surround him and gang tackle him and make sure we can get him down. A lot of teams contain him, then all of a sudden he gets a big play."
After rotating captains for the first eight games, Hofher has selected permanent captains for the rest of the season. They are Cummings, Knueven, senior right guard Erik Zeppuhar and senior free safety J.J. Gibson.