July 20, 2024
Five questions facing UB football in spring practices

One would think a winning record and a bowl-game appearance would foster some sort of continuity in a college football program. Not at the University at Buffalo.

The Bulls squeaked into bowl eligibility on the final day of their regular season, in a game that was rescheduled due to a snowstorm in November. Then, by the time they defeated Georgia Southern 23-21 in the Camellia Bowl on Dec. 27, the Bulls won without an experienced backup quarterback, without the bulk of their secondary, and without their top three running backs, due to injuries.

Now, as UB continues its spring practices, they’ll prepare for the 2023 season with a new offensive coordinator and a new special teams coordinator, and are in search of a defensive coordinator to replace Brandon Bailey, who left after one season to take the same job at Georgia Southern.

As of Saturday, UB had concluded the fourth of its 15 spring practices, and its spring game is scheduled for April 23 at UB Stadium.

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Nine practices remain before the spring game. Here’s a look at what the Bulls need to address with new additions to their coaching staff, with the departures of key players on defense and with new additions to the roster.

UB football to lose defensive coordinator Brandon Bailey to Georgia Southern

Bailey is a 2016 Georgia Southern graduate who leaves UB after one season, in which he was one of the youngest coordinators in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

1. How will Bailey’s departure impact UB’s defense?

Head coach Maurice Linguist will take over as UB’s interim defensive coordinator, but don’t anticipate a lot to change schematically in the Bulls’ 4-2-5 defense. Don’t fix what’s not broken, but instead tinker with what’s there and plug holes as needed. UB not only lost Bailey as the defensive play-caller, but also lost linebacker James Patterson, who exhausted his eligibility after five seasons, and safeties Jahmin Muse and Keyshawn Cobb, and cornerbacks Elijah Blades and Isaiah King.

UB has returners and additions: Joe Andreessen, a Lancaster graduate and a transfer from FCS program Bryant, will join Shaun Dolac at linebacker – Dolac led the nation with 97 solo tackles in 2022 – and the Bulls return safety Marcus Fuqua, one of two players who led the nation with seven interceptions in 2022 and was named to the Associated Press All-America third team.

2. Does UB stick with three running backs, or designate a bell cow?

The spring isn’t when starters are named, but players can build currency during the course of spring practices. UB is in a unique position in which it has three productive running backs who are returning: Ron Cook Jr., Mike Washington and Al-Jay Henderson, who combined for 1,526 of UB’s 1,844 rushing yards, and 14 of UB’s 22 rushing touchdowns. Expect the Bulls to continue with the running-back rotation, unless someone accrues significant numbers in the first few weeks of the season.

At UB football pro day, James and Jaret Patterson continue to embrace family, opportunities

From 2018-22, James Patterson and his fraternal twin, Jaret, became mainstays of the UB football program. Two years after Jaret Patterson’s own pro day, he spent the morning and early afternoon cheering on his brother.

UB also needs more production from its run game, even to take the pressure off quarterback Cole Snyder. While Snyder is a dual-threat quarterback, he lost 212 yards on the ground, more than half of UB’s lost rushing yardage (363).

3. What’s next for Snyder in his continued development?

Snyder showed off his arm (3,030 yards, 18 touchdowns, eight interceptions on 271-of-461 passing) but the Southwestern High graduate took his lumps and bumps in starting 13 games. UB needs to shore up its offensive line in front of Snyder after giving up 32 sacks, and needs to cultivate its depth among its backup quarterbacks. That project begins this spring, with a nearly new group.

Three quarterbacks on last year’s roster (Matt Myers, Casey Case and Brian Plummer) transferred. Three new quarterbacks – C.J. Ogbonna from Southeast Missouri State and California junior-college transfers Richie Watts (College of San Mateo) and Gunnar Gray (San Diego Mesa College) – will join Snyder and Mike DePillo, who was a freshman in 2022.

They’ll work with assistant coach Ron Whitcomb, who moves from tight ends coach to quarterbacks coach. Whitcomb is a former University of Maine quarterback who coached Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke at Old Dominion.

UB football announces new offensive coordinator, special teams coordinator among coaching hires

The University at Buffalo football program on Tuesday announced that it has hired DJ Mangas as its offensive coordinator and Robert Wright as its special teams coordinator.

4. What will new offensive coordinator D.J. Mangas bring?

Mangas, the older brother of former UB tight end Robbie Mangas, has experience at the FBS, FCS and NFL levels. He was a defensive analyst at UCF this past season, but was an offensive analyst for the Carolina Panthers in 2020, and spent two seasons on staff at LSU. He was the Tigers’ passing game coordinator in 2021, and was an offensive analyst for Tigers’ passing game coordinator Joe Brady in 2019. Brady is now the Bills’ quarterbacks coach.

A former wide receiver at William & Mary, Mangas coached the Tribe’s running backs and was its offensive coordinator from 2014-18. His resume is impressive, but his first task is to build a solid working relationship with UB’s offense, particularly its quarterbacks and its quarterbacks coach.

5. What is the most significant problem area that needs to be addressed?

Spring practices aren’t just where you assess your personnel as you prepare for the upcoming season. It’s also where you strengthen the individual and collective mindset.   

Once again, the Bulls have brought in a haul of FBS/FCS transfers and junior-college players, including Andreessen, Ogbonna, cornerback D’Andre Greeley (Colorado State) and wide receiver Darrell Harding (Duke).

Spring practices will get the players on the new roster on the same page, but they also have to foster habits that will help them build off of and avoid some of the mistakes they made last season.

This team has to win games down the stretch – UB was 1-3 in its last four regular-season games and earned bowl eligibility, with a comeback win against Akron in its final game.