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UB's worries start to mount Runners, O-line concerns

The University at Buffalo did more heavy lifting than anticipated in Saturday's overtime win against Army, and few disturbing aspects emerged.

Injuries are hindering the Bulls' once deep backfield and not only is the running game suffering, but the offensive line is having problems protecting quarterback Drew Willy.

Junior tailback James Starks missed his second game of the season -- this time with turf toe -- and backup Mario Henry was injured during the third quarter of Saturday's game with what initially appears to be a torn ligament in his right knee. UB (3-4) didn't have an update on Henry as of Sunday but could learn the severity of the injury as early as today, said Paul Vecchio, the school's associate athletics director for communications.

UB coach Turner Gill hopes to have Starks back for the Bulls' ESPNU game Oct. 28 at Ohio University, but if Henry is sidelined for the remainder of the season and Starks is bothered by his injury, the only tailback with extensive game experience is sophomore Brandon Thermilus.

Next after Thermilus is sophomore Ike Nduka, who primarily plays special teams and has yet to receive a carry as a collegian. A native of White Plains, Nduka was a third-team all-state selection after gaining 1,386 yards and scoring 17 touchdowns as a high school senior.

"We're going to put him in the mix," Gill said.

But the team's biggest issue may be addressing the problems on the offensive line. Not only did the running game produce a paltry 41 yards and just 1.4 yards a carry, but Willy was sacked five times against a team that came in with just five sacks on the year.

Army defensive end Victor Ugenyi was usually found in UB's backfield and finished with 2 1/2 sacks. Historically, UB's offensive line has been good at protecting its quarterbacks but the Bulls are tied for 105th nationally in sacks allowed with 19, an average of 2.71 per game.

Luckily for the Bulls, their next five opponents don't pile up the sack totals. All five teams -- Ohio, Miami (Ohio), Akron, Bowling Green and Kent State -- rank in the bottom half of the country in sacks with Bowling Green and Kent State ranking the highest at 74th. The Bobcats have only eight sacks on the season and rank 101st in the nation.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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