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The University at Buffalo run defense looked organized and on target Saturday during an hourlong controlled scrimmage.

The Bulls’ defense forced three three-and-out possessions in five series against the starting offense. UB’s first-stringers held running backs to just 28 yards on nine carries, a 3-yard average.

It was an encouraging showing for an outfit that is aiming to prove it isn’t lost without NFL first-round draft pick Khalil Mack.

“They’re playing together as a unit,” said UB coach Jeff Quinn. “That’s what our team-defense mentality is all about. … I see a unit out there, less a bunch of individuals, and that’s what these kids are committed to.”

UB’s defense ranked second in the Mid-American Conference last season in both points and yards allowed.

It returns just four starters, but most of the backups saw significant playing time.

“I think we really mesh well on defense,” said middle linebacker Lee Skinner, who has started all 37 games of his UB career. “I think we’ve got a lot of guys. I think our team is more deep than it’s ever been. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do.”

Skinner had a stuff of freshman running back Diamond Williams on a fourth-and-1 play in the red zone.

UB opens its season at home against Duquesne on Aug. 30.

The starting units got 29 snaps against each other, as did the second-stringers. The third stringers got 18 snaps. Starting QB Joe Licata was 10 of 18 for 74 yards.

UB’s offense walked away with a decent feeling due to a 65-yard drive for a touchdown in a two-minute drill.

Among the standout performers were:

• Sophomore receiver Boise Ross, who caught four passes for 73 yards. He’s a starter who saw time with both the first and second units. He had a 53-yard catch-and-run from No. 2 QB Tony Daniel down the left sideline that went down to the 7-yard line.

“It was just an outside release,” Ross said. “They were running cover 2 so he threw it right in the hole of the zone. Great throw by Tony.”

• Junior receiver Marcus McGill, a 6-foot-1, 222-pounder from Rochester who caught five passes for 22 yards. One was a 10-yard TD catch from Licata on the two-minute drill. He used his bulk to bull over the goal line.

McGill missed the last 10 games of last season due to a broken hand. He’s going to see plenty of time as a third or fourth receiver.

“Being injured last year definitely took a toll on me,” McGill said. “I just wanted to come out here and show everybody I still can play and show my quarterback I’m ready for the season.”

“We need him to step up,” Quinn said. “He needs to keep his focus and build on what he’s capable of achieving. He’s a good player. Very strong.”

• Defensive end Brandon Crawford looked like a force against the run. He’s a 6-foot-2, 275-pound true sophomore who was an all-state pick as a high schooler near Tallahassee, Fla.

Crawford stood up running back Anthone Taylor with a big pop at the line of scrimmage on the first play of the session and helped smother McGill for a 4-yard loss on a receiver screen.

UB’s offense worked into a 15 to 20 mph wind the entire session. Patrick Clarke made field goals of 22 and 24 yards but missed one from 30.

“We got some good work in the red zone and black zone,” said Quinn, referring in the latter case to possessions with the offense backed up against its goal line. “We got to evaluate some live special teams work. We got some young guys in so we could see their progress, see who’s ready to step up and help us.”

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com