After warming up two weeks ago against Miami (Ohio), University at Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson was itching to get back on the field. Since he hadn't been cleared by doctors he was relegated to the sidelines, but by going through the motions he could tell he was close.
By the time the Akron game rolled around last Saturday, it'd been over a month since he was knocked out of the Florida Atlantic game on Sept. 23 with a knee injury. After weeks of strength and flexibility exercises, Jackson finally trotted out with the offense to battle the Zips.
The towering 6-foot-7 sophomore showed few signs of rust despite only having three full practices under his belt, throwing for a career high 313 yards in UB's 21-20 loss. He completed 34 of his 50 passing attempts, putting him two completions shy of the single-game UB record.
"The thing that impressed me was his command and confidence was very much there," UB coach Lance Leipold said.
“The Miami week I got to throw around with the scout team and last week practicing I felt good," Jackson said. "I think the offensive line played well and our receivers got in the area. They’d make anyone look good.”
Jackson returned as a slightly different quarterback than the one who was helped off the field against FAU, starting with his mental makeup.
The Norton Shores, Mich., native got a chance to sit back and watch what worked for UB's other two quarterbacks, Drew Anderson and Kyle Vantrease. Since Jackson started last year as a redshirt freshman, it's the first time as an experienced college quarterback he had a chance to analyze the game from the sidelines for an extended period of time.
“All three of us play different, me, Kyle and Drew," Jackson said. "Watching each quarterback play, you definitely learn, even watching other teams."
"You don't want it to be through injury, but I think a lot of our guys need a chance to step away and watch and learn through someone else," Leipold said.
It's not all positive, as he's also less mobile than he was before the injury. Jackson normally adds a dynamic to the offense the other two quarterbacks don't, coming into the game with 227 yards rushing. Last season he was the team's second leading rusher.
Against Akron, he only attempted to scramble once for a 5-yard loss. He was forced to be a pocket passer.
"Running the football right now was not part of it," Leipold said. "There are things we've put on the shelf in the game plan, in the run game, that we were using prior to the injury. When they come back out, we'll see. We have to be smart."
“I think we were just going day-by-day," Jackson said. "I feel 100 percent. ... The training staff wouldn’t clear me if I couldn’t run around.”
With a week under his belt, Jackson is getting back into the rhythm of college football. Barring another injury, he's the unquestioned starter for the final three games, beginning with Tuesday night's home game with Bowling Green, after a season-ending injury to Anderson.
“The first game is kinda like, ‘Let’s see how it is,’ " Jackson said. "Now that I’ve played we’re in the normal game groove."
UB needs the promising Jackson it saw last season to salvage the season. Sitting at 3-6, the Bulls need to win their last three games to earn bowl eligibility and the first .500 season under Leipold.