UB FOOTBALL PREVIEW: RUNNING BACKS
(This is the fifth of eight position previews that will run this week. The full Buffalo News college football preview runs in Sunday's paper.)
Overview: The Bulls have a high-quality, big, athletic running back in Jordan Johnson, the Sweet Home High School product. He’s one of the top six backs in the MAC. The backfield future looks bright, too.
Projected starter: Jordan Johnson.
Key backups: Johnathan Hawkins, Zach Nicholas, Emmanuel Reed, Glynn Molinich.
Strengths: Johnson is a worthy successor to UB's long line of superb backs. He split time with senior Anthone Taylor last year but still finished with 811 yards, a 4.7-yard per-carry average and 12 TDs. The TD total tied for fifth in the MAC. Johnson can pound between the tackles but has enough speed to get wide, as he showed on a 47-yard TD run vs. Northern Illinois last year. The No. 2 is Hawkins, and UB is counting on him to be a speedier change-of-pace threat. An Atlanta-area recruit, Hawkins had an offer from North Carolina State, but the Wolfpack wanted him to play linebacker. Nicholas, a junior from Maryland, looks like the No. 3 in regular down-and-distance situations. But Reed should be a factor, too, especially if he can pass protect. Just 5-6 but a sturdy 183, Reed is a sophomore from Florida who can break tackles and get into the secondary. Johnson is a reliable pass protector, so he's going to have to play a bunch of third downs. Molinich is more of an H-back than a fullback. Look for him in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The Lance Leipold offense doesn’t use a true fullback.
Questions: Will a young, untested offensive line be able to make holes? Are Hawkins and Reed ready to make an impact in just their second seasons? Hawkins had offseason shoulder surgery but has been full-go all camp.
2015 Stats: UB ranked 10th in MAC games in rush yards (128.5 a game) and 11th in yards per attempt (3.5).
Analytics: The Bulls were second last in the MAC in runs of 10-plus and 20-plus yards. But it wasn’t all the fault of the run game. The Bulls could not stretch the field in the pass game, so defenses were unafraid to creep up on the run. . . . Johnson, who played QB at Sweet Home, is comfortable in the Wildcat. He rushed 14 times for 118 yards from it (8.43 a carry).
Quotable: UB running backs coach Matt Simon on Hawkins: “Jonathan is a very explosive and dynamic athlete. His speed and quickness are a tremendous complement to Jordan. We’d like to think he has a chance to be special in this conference.”
Did you know? Last year was the first time UB averaged fewer than 150 rush yards and the first time it ranked in the bottom half of the MAC in rushing in five years, since 2010.
Looking ahead: The future is exciting. Freshmen Kameron Pickett of Georgia and Theo Anderson of Florida both are heralded recruits. UB probably has the luxury of red-shirting them, barring injuries.