Injuries to a team’s top two quarterbacks can be expected to result in a drop in passing numbers. For the University at Buffalo, the rushing numbers have taken a big hit, too.
The Bulls haven’t surpassed 100 yards rushing the last three games, hitting a low two weeks ago with only 39 against Northern Illinois. Last weekend they ran for 69 yards against Miami (Ohio).
UB didn’t run for fewer than 100 yards the first five weeks of the season. Against Florida Atlantic and Kent State, the Bulls surpassed the 200-yard mark.
"Where we’ve been the last few weeks is very concerning," coach Lance Leipold said.
A number of factors play into the downturn, starting with running back Jonathan Hawkins’ season-ending injury.
Emmanuel Reed limited the impact of the lossof Hawkins with 100-yard rushing outings against Colgate, Florida Atlantic and Kent State. The last few weeks, his production has decreased as he’s dealt with a heavy workload. Leipold said he doesn’t resemble the player viewers saw at the start of the year, as the sophomore back has run for only 83 yards on 28 carries combined in the last two games.
Theo Anderson, the backup, has averaged less than two yards per carry the last two weeks. The offensive line isn’t without fault either. And it’s a factor that injured quarterbacks Tyree Jackson and Drew Anderson added significantly to the running game. Jackson has carried 40 times for 264 yards, a 5.7-yard average, with four touchdowns. Anderson has run 11 times for 106 yards, an 8.4 average, with a touchdown.
"If it were one thing or one position, that would be easy," Leipold said. "It’s this on this play, this on this play."
Leipold said the team needs to get more production from the backs to relieve pressure on freshman and third string quarterback Kyle Vantrease, who is in line for his second start. The Ohio native is still taking first-team reps in practice, as Leipold said the team is in the same position as last week when it comes to the Jackson and Drew Anderson injuries.
"When you go through some of the things we’ve gone through, these things aren’t uncommon," Leipold said. "Teams will do things, whether that be stack the box and force you to do other things because of that. That makes it tough sledding."
Vantrease passed for 202 yards in his first career start last week against Miami.
"For his first start, he did some good things," Leipold said. "We’ve got to do a better job around him and around all our quarterbacks, running the football, getting balance and getting us back to where we were a few weeks back."
On paper, this week’s road game against Akron could jump-start the backs. The Zips are 11th in the MAC in run defense, giving up 114.9 yards per game. Their MAC numbers look even more dire. Against Western Michigan two weeks ago the Zips allowed 244 rushing yards, and last week they yielded a season-high 303 to Toledo.
"When we go step out on the field we have to find a way to execute better, no doubt about it," Leipold said. "I don’t want to stand here next week and talk about another game where we’re inefficient running the football."