The University at Buffalo looked nothing like a 1-5 team Wednesday afternoon. Practice was sharp. Spirits ran high. There appeared no negative residual effects from last Saturday’s smackdown at Northern Illinois. Now all the Bulls need is some of their key players back in uniform.
Running back Branden Oliver remains a non-participant in full-scale practice, and he’s been joined by another key offensive threat, wideout Alex Neutz. Neutz is dealing with soreness after the thundering hit he absorbed in the NIU game and is considered day-to-day for Saturday’s Homecoming non-conference game against 2-4 Pitt at UB Stadium.
The Bulls have been calling Oliver day-to-day since he failed to return for the second half of a 23-7 loss to Kent State on Sept. 19. It’s clear the status report was concocted to keep the opposition guessing. The team’s main offensive weapon still isn’t participating in contact.
“He’s going through drills and he’s doing stuff out on the field,” coach Jeff Quinn said at Tuesday’s weekly news conference. “Is he in a live situation yet? No. But he keeps getting better. I think we’re doing the right thing by taking the kind of precautionary measures to make sure that when he does hit the field that he’s 100 percent.
“Could he potentially play this week? I hope so. I’ve been hoping for that and praying for that and I know he wants to get in there.”
Oliver was made available Wednesday for the first time since the injury and shed light on how it occurred.
“One ‘D’ [lineman] went on my leg and the other kind of fell on top of me,” he said. “I was just put in a situation where I really couldn’t do much. I probably should have just went down instead of trying to go for extra yards. I feel like anybody would have got hurt in that situation.”
He didn’t think much of it right away.
“I ran a [pass] route the next play and that’s when I knew,” he said. “But I didn’t know it was that bad until I got to the sidelines and they told me.”
Oliver has been the Bulls offensive identity since the start of last season. He ran for a school Division I-A record 1,395 yards and caught 38 balls for another 365 yards. He was ahead of pace to break his own mark this junior season with 425 yards on 71 carries, a 6.0 average.
“I’m doing great mentally,” Oliver said. “I have support from my coaches and teammates. The training staff and medical staff are doing a great job with me and the strength and conditioning coach also. And my family. It’s all a process. I know something great is going to come out of it.”
Oliver said his rehab workouts have grown more extensive. He’s doing leg raises, squats, body squats and icing regularly.
Right now it’s looking like the Toledo game Oct. 27 could mark his return.
“They said really it’s up to me this week but definitely next week it’ll really be up to me,” he said. “So most likely it will happen.”