University at Buffalo tight end Mason Schreck got a text message Thursday morning from his roommate, running back Jordan Johnson.
“He had a feeling about today,” Schreck said. “He was going to carry us and he was going to have the best game of his life.”
Johnson’s premonition came true. He set the UB single-game rushing record, gaining 282 yards on 24 carries and leading the Bulls to a 41-20 upset of Akron.
“We knew it was going to be wet, we knew it was going to be rainy,” Johnson said. “In these type of conditions you’ve got to run the ball. We did that.”
The performance put Johnson above his mentor, former UB great Bo Oliver, who was a senior when Johnson was a freshman. Oliver’s mark of 249 yards in 2013 was UB’s Football Bowl Subdivision record. Alan Bell previously held the overall Bulls record, 266 yards, set in 1991.
At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Johnson is a much bigger man than the 5-6 Oliver, now with the San Diego Chargers. But like Oliver, Johnson attacks the defenses by running north and south.
“Honestly I learned from the record-holder,” Johnson said. “I watched the previous record holder do the same things. . . . It’s a good feeling learning from your teacher, because that’s what Bo was.”
Johnson stormed through the Akron defense on touchdown runs of 61 and 39 yards.
Akron (5-4) was a 17.5-point favorite. But the Zips’ strength is offense. Their defense had yielded the second most overall yards in the Mid-American Conference and the fourth-most rushing yards (210 a game).
Johnson was averaging 63 rushing yards a game but gained 97 in last week’s loss at Northern Illinois and thought UB’s running game was coming around.
“We started clicking a little bit against NIU last week,” Johnson said. “I know it didn’t show on the scoreboard. But this week the coaches did a good job preparing with the game plan. And our offensive line did a good job blocking. You could see throughout the week in preparation they took what the coaches said to them and they started playing physical.”
UB coach Lance Leipold also thought UB’s young offensive line was improving.
“That’s been the thing, when you’re not getting a lot of movement, that hesitation, as a back you’re looking for something,” Leipold said. “It’s been pretty cloudy at times. When you can get a big back like him downhill with his shoulders square and then plant your foot one time and go, you’ve got a chance. . . . Now that he’s getting a little bit of room, the physicality at the second and third level is impressive to see.”
UB’s running game plan worked to perfection. On numerous runs, the Bulls put their two tight ends, Schreck and Tyler Mabry, on the wide side of the formation and handed off to Johnson on the short side, attacking Akron’s weak-side linebacker behind left tackle Roubbens Joseph and center James O’Hagan.
“We knew that was a weakness in their defense,” Johnson said. “They probably would play towards our tight ends with Mason and T blocking out there. So we wanted to run away with big Rubes on the back side at tackle. We felt like that was our strength.”
That’s exactly what happened on a 61-yard TD run in the second quarter, which gave UB a 17-3 lead. Johnson burst off the weak side and blew past both Akron safeties. Johnson had 149 yards at halftime, surpassing his career high of 146.
Johnson, a former Sweet Home High star, now has 1,897 career rushing yards and 17 TDs.
By the time he got back into the locker room, he already had a text message congratulating him from Oliver.
“He said good job,” Johnson said. “He had told me before I was going to break something of his. . . . It’s good to be from here and so something like this at this university.”