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Faster starts, more touches for Jordan Johnson on UB agenda

More carries for running back Jordan Johnson will be a priority for the University at Buffalo offense over the final five games of the season.

It has been easier said than done the first seven games.

Johnson showed his ability in Saturday’s loss at Northern Illinois by gaining 97 yards on 13 carries. He had a 29-yard TD run. But Johnson is averaging only 14 carries a game, and UB stands second last in the Mid-American Conference in rushing attempts, at 34 a game.

A big part of the problem is UB falls behind so fast. The Bulls have been outscored in the first quarter, 55-7. The average halftime deficit has been 18-6.

“It was the best production-wise we’ve gotten,” said UB coach Lance Leipold of Johnson’s last game. “You finally got a chance to see him get something on the edge, making it happen, make a little move and get in the end zone. I hope that’s something we can build on.”

The Bulls (1-6) play host to Akron (5-3) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at UB Stadium. Akron is a 17.5-point favorite. Johnson ranks 10th in the MAC in rushing, at 63.3 yards a game.

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Akron’s passing offense ranked 12th out of 13 in the MAC last season, averaging just 194 yards a game. But the Zips stand fourth in the MAC this year with 276 yards a game. Junior quarterback Tommy Woodson passed for 338 yards in the win over Ball State Saturday.

“Last year we had the No. 1 scoring defense in the conference, the No. 1 total defense in the conference and the No. 3 rush defense in the nation,” said Akron coach Terry Bowden. “So our defense was huge. In trying to turn this program around, I decided we’re we’re going to try to run the clock, control the football, play field position, don’t turn the ball over, and make sure we don’t lose the game. We’re going to try to find a way to win to make ourselves bowl eligible. Passing wasn’t the way to do it last year.”

“But I like to throw the football,” Bowden said. “We knew we lost a lot of defensive players. So we really committed to being a little more wide open. We said we’re going to go after it, we’re going to try to score points, because we’re trying to rebuild that defense back after losing some key players. It’s evolved like that.”

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UB cornerback Boise Ross tweaked his left knee late in the first half at Northern Illinois and is questionable for Thursday, Leipold said. Ross was working out on the side during Monday’s practice. If Ross is not ready this week, sophomore Brandon Williams likely would start in his place.

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The Bulls are 127th in the nation against the run, allowing 289 yards a game. They rose one spot this week, ahead of last-place Louisiana Monroe (297.9). The Bills will need a marked improvement to avoid setting a single-season record for most rushing yards allowed. The mark is 234 a game, set in 1999. UB has faced the most rush attempts in the MAC and the fewest pass attempts. UB’s pass defense is No. 1 in the MAC.

The Bulls dropped to 128th (and last) in scoring, at 14.9 ppg.

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UB has been handing out playing time evenly on the defensive line. The starting linebackers are playing almost all the snaps. Here’s the unofficial defensive snap percentages for the top front seven defenders: Demone Harris (57.6), Remaine Douglas (55.3), Brandon Crawford (54.6), Chris Ford (50.4), Max Perisse (49.2), Joe Keels (47.5), Justin Brandon (34.2), Charles Harris (26.1), Myles Nicholas (14.5), Torey Hendrick (7.6), Ishmael Hargrove (87.7), Khalil Hodge (79.9), Jarrett Franklin (79.9), Matt Otwinowski (20.2), Jordan Collier (15.6).

Email: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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