Branden Oliver had experienced enough premonitions to embrace them. Two years ago, he told his teammates he would have a big day against Akron and ended up rushing for 235 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, he had a similar feeling before rushing for 238 yards and two scores against Morgan State.
“Usually when I feel that way,” Oliver said, “things happen.”
Oliver didn’t need a greater power to rescue him Saturday. Instead, he relied on the laws of probability and statistics. The University at Buffalo senior rushed for 100 yards or more 12 times during his career but he essentially had been shut down this season. He figured he was due for a big day.
He wasted little time breaking through Saturday and helping UB blow out Eastern Michigan, 42-14, for its third straight victory. He could sense a big play coming on the first series after scanning the defense. He knew he was gone if left one-on-one with a defensive back, as he anticipated.
Poor Donald Coleman.
Oliver has the power to run between the tackles, the elusiveness needed to break outside and the speed to cover the distance. Coleman, the strong safety, had no chance when Oliver broke through the line of scrimmage and made a quick move before racing down the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown.
“That cut that he made was unbelievable,” quarterback Joe Licata said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. It was something L.T. would have made back in his prime. Did the guy fall down? It was crazy.”
L.T. would be LaDainian Tomlinson, who broke a few long runs – and a few ankles – during his NFL career. Oliver isn’t in the same class, but he’s just as important to UB as Tomlinson was to San Diego at the height of his career. L.T. could change a game with one play, which is what Bo did on the sixth play Saturday.
He finished with 150 yards rushing and two touchdowns and another 32 yards receiving before taking a seat in the third quarter. He would have had a third touchdown but was called out of bounds at the 1. Replays showed he was inside the goal-line marker. It didn’t matter. A play later, Devin Campbell punched it into the end zone.
Oliver’s performance was a matter of time.
He had been largely contained this season, but it wasn’t as if he would be stopped for the entire season. A knee injury that knocked him out of the game against Baylor also caused him to miss the ugly win over Stony Brook. He had 90 yards last week in the win over Connecticut before sitting out much of the second half.
Oliver had 107 yards in the first half Saturday. He now has 13 career 100-yard rushing games, tying Anthony Swan for the most since 1977. He’s 281 yards from catching James Starks for the all-time rushing mark at UB.
“I just had to keep persevering through all the trials with the injuries that happened,” he said. “I just had to keep going. It had to happen sooner or later. I just had to stay a straight course and a level head and not let anything get to me, even when the injuries and little nicks come about.”
Oliver is a load with his 5-foot-8, 208-pound frame and low center of gravity. He has been compared to Maurice Jones-Drew with his combination of power and speed. If he’s not selected in the NFL draft, he’s almost certain to sign as a free agent. The better he plays in the coming weeks, the better UB’s chances of contending in the conference.
UB has produced 83 points in the last two games. Eastern Michigan isn’t going to be confused with the University of Michigan, but you could sense the Bulls’ confidence soaring after two convincing victories. Oliver remains their biggest threat while Licata continues to develop in the passing game.
Licata barely broke a sweat Saturday while completing 15 of 22 passes for 224 yards and a 27-yard touchdown to Alex Neutz. UB scored four touchdowns on the ground and another on Campbell’s 96-yard kickoff return. They dominated Eastern Michigan in all phases for their third straight victory overall.
UB, a heavy favorite, did what was expected.
It’s a good sign. UB believed it would compete for a conference title, but it was nothing more than wishful thinking until they backed up their faith on the field. They’ve played better in the last two weeks than at any time in the four previous seasons, and more fans are paying attention.
UB announced attendance was 23,602, marking the first time in history it sold more than 20,000 tickets for three consecutive home games. The actual attendance was considerably lower, but the crowds are growing at UB Stadium. Fans stayed longer, too, two weeks removed from the stadium emptying during a tie game with Stony Brook.
Then again, they saw plenty worth watching Saturday. UB scored 40-plus points for the second straight week, a first since it was in Division III in 1981. All this after the Bulls failed to score more than 20 points in regulation in their first three games. They turned the game against Eastern Michigan into a laugher.
It all started on the sixth play.
“I feel great,” Oliver said. “We have to just keep it rolling.”