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The presence of returning quarterback Joe Licata is not going to distract the University at Buffalo from its big-picture philosophy on how to play offense, says coach Jeff Quinn.

Quinn does not hesitate when asked to define the offensive identity he’s seeking this season.

“Run the ball,” Quinn said. “We want to be a very physical offense that’s multiple, that’s high tempo. But it’s one that has the mindset that we’re going to establish the run. We need to continue to make that the No. 1 identity factor to our offense.”

UB ranked fifth in the 13-team Mid-American Conference in rushing last season by averaging 167.4 yards a game. A repeat of that production would go a long way to helping UB post a second straight winning season.

The Bulls get to work on establishing their identity Saturday when they open the season at home against Duquesne.

Licata is the No. 2 returning passer in the MAC, and Quinn calls him “the best player in this program.” But UB needs to set up his downfield passing ability by establishing the run.

UB ran 55.8 percent of the time last season. The MAC average was 54.8 percent running.

“We’re in the North Atlantic,” Quinn said. “When I first came here, we were spread. We were throwing it. We did not play with fullbacks and tight ends, so the edges were a little bit shorter. Very athletic ends could tee off on us. With the ability to have more tight end sets and fullbacks, it really started to enhance our ability to run more effectively, which then created that identity.”

“And we want to be able to be explosive downfield, too,” Quinn said.

Gone from last year’s team is top back Branden Oliver, who rushed for 1,535 yards.

Replacing him is a committee of three, led by junior starter Anthone Taylor. Junior Devin Campbell and sophomore Jordan Johnson, the former Sweet Home High star, will back him up.

“Anthone’s shown he can be a good player,” said UB offensive coordinator Alex Wood. “We think he’s capable. He’s got good vision and cutting ability. He’s got good instincts. He puts his foot in the ground, gets his shoulders square. He understands where his help is coming from.”

“Anthone has earned the starting position,” Quinn said. “You are going to see both Devin Campbell and Jordan Johnson. We have packages that are going to highlight those guys, and I think each of them have a role and are going to contribute.”

Duquesne, a Football Championship Subdivision school, is playing up at the highest division of college ball for the first time on Saturday. One would think UB will be able to play physical style against the Pittsburgh school.

UB returns all five starting offensive linemen.

“It starts up front, controlling the line of scrimmage to give Joe what we need in the run game so we can complete the deep balls downfield and be explosive,” Quinn said.

“We’re a balanced team,” said UB senior center Trevor Sales. “We have some big guys up front. When they call a zone play or a gap play, we’re pumped about that. They’re calling our names, and it’s time to go. I think we’re pumped this year to actually show more of that.”

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The Bulls have named eight captains for the season. They are: Licata, Sales, guard Andre Davis, nose tackle Kristjan Sokoli, linebackers Lee Skinner and Jake Stockman, safety Adam Redden and cornerback Cortney Lester. All are seniors except Licata, a junior.

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com