Now that Branden Oliver has completed his record-setting career at the University at Buffalo, one would expect a drop-off in production at tailback. It is up to Matt Simon to identify Oliver’s replacement.
“We’ve got to find that guy who can play to the level of Bo Oliver,” the UB running backs coach said.
Simon realizes it’s not that simple – Oliver rushed for 1,535 of the team’s 2,176 yards in 2013 – but he isn’t a patient man, either.
“I think it’s time, and I’m putting pressure on myself a little bit when I say I think it’s time,” he said. “I don’t want the fan base to wait, I think they should be excited about what we have and we should expect a high level of performance.”
This spring, juniors Anthone Taylor and Devin Campbell are competing for the No. 1 tailback position while sophomore Jordan Johnson (Sweet Home) is making up ground quickly.
“I think there’s a lot of potential in this group, I think there’s potential to pick up where we left off a year ago,” Simon said. “I think they showed signs a year ago. They’re a year older, a little more mature. I think it’s time.”
The 5-foot-10, 209-pound Taylor rushed for 399 yards and three touchdowns on 82 carries (4.9 avg.). He earned his first career start against Stony Brook in place of the injured Oliver, rushed for 118 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the fifth overtime. He also rushed for a career-high 154 yards on just 17 carries in a win at Miami (Ohio).
Two years ago, the 5-11, 205-pound Campbell was the second leading rusher with 502 yards and a pair of touchdowns before moving to the slot where he caught nine passes for 200 yards. Campbell was second in the Mid-American Conference in kick returns behind Bowling Green’s Jamill Smith with 28 returns for 669 yards and a touchdown.
Campbell is expected to line up in the backfield, in the slot and out wide as well.
“Devin really adds a dimension. He catches the ball well, he’s been out at receiver a little bit so now we brought him back in,” UB coach Jeff Quinn said. “His first year he was a running back and that’s paid off a lot for him having opportunities at different spots.”
Quinn has been impressed with Johnson, a star quarterback at Sweet Home, as he tries to find his way into the rotation at tailback. The 6-foot, 233-pound Johnson missed all of last season with an elbow injury, but he could play key role at a position in dire need of quality depth.
“He’s a little bit bigger guy,” Quinn said. “Last year he missed a lot of opportunity because of his injury, but you can tell he’s right back in the thick of things. All three of those guys they’re all getting reps, but Anthone and Devin are the two guys competing for the top spot.”
Simon: “I’d be really disappointed in Jordan if he’s not challenging them. I think Jordan brings a lot to the table. He’s got a lot of ability but he has work to do.”
On Signing Day, the staff added Gary Hosey, a 6-foot, 230-pound tailback from Detroit who could get pushed into action sooner than expected. Injuries have always been an issue at the position for UB, and the loss of senior James Potts to academic issues cut into the team’s depth even further.
In 2012 because of injuries, the Bulls had to press Campbell into service as a true freshman along with walk-on Brandon Murie. Even fullback Rashard Jean was forced to play at tailback in a late-season game against Massachusetts.
“Jean bailed us out at UMass and thank God he was a young man who was willing to work hard for us because he has never carried a football in a game,” Simon said. “The depth is going to be key for our football team.”