Bulls' quarterback battle headlines 2019 spring game

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Photo credit Photo: Paul Hokanson - UBBulls.com
By WGR 550 SportsRadio

The University at Buffalo football team returned to the field on Friday night for their annual spring game at UB Stadium. 

There’s only so much one can take away from a spring game. The Bulls had low numbers due to some injuries and transfers; they ended up playing for a little over an hour and didn’t appear to keep score.

The game was still a good way for younger players who will be looking to fill important roles this fall get some reps in before the school year ends. The Bulls will have some big spots to fill with the departure of arguably their best senior class in program history, along with some transfers.

“I’m really pleased with the way we ended up this spring,” Bulls head coach Lance Leipold said after the game. “Tonight we had a chance to get some guys out there. We’re short some numbers, so we had to cut back on some of the things we wanted to get done. But some of the things that we have to improve on are starting to show themselves.”

The biggest spot that needs to be filled on the Bulls’ depth chart is at quarterback following Tyree Jackson’s decision to leave a year early for the NFL. Kyle Vantrease and Dominic Johnson, who will both be juniors this fall, split the play-calling duties on Friday night.

Vantrease put in a solid performance and looked pretty good throwing the ball despite a few drops from his receivers. The Ohio native completed 10 of 22 passes and seemed to have some good chemistry with Antonio Nunn, who could be the Bulls’ No. 1 receiver in 2019. Nunn finished with three catches for 35 yards and was returning punts with the first team on Friday night.

“I think the team is headed in a great direction,” Vantrease said. “The defense did a really great job this spring. Offensively, we’ve got a little bit to work on, but we’re headed in the right direction. We have guys out there who are going to make plays. We have a great offensive line; great backfield and receivers are stepping up in places when we need it. This summer is going to be huge and I can’t wait to see what happens.”

Leipold mentioned after the game how thin the receiving corps currently is. Never the less, Vantrease and Johnson were able to put some impressive drives together.

Johnson didn’t have as good of an overall passing performance as Vantrease; but the 6' 5" play caller from Ontario, California had two of the best looking throws of the night.

Johnson threw a great ball to Nunn in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown that ended up being called back due to Nunn going out of bounds while running up the sideline.

A few plays later, Johnson got the touchdown back on a bit of a crazy sequence. After a bad snap, Johnson recovered the ball off a bounce, rolled to the right, and threw a 30-yard strike to the end zone where he found Jovany Ruiz for the score.

“I’m just excited to get to work in the summer,” Johnson said. “I feel like over the summer is when most of the development comes. Coach Leipold was saying it might not necessarily be the guy who is playing the best in the spring [who gets a spot], but the guy who’s really performing in the fall heading into the season.”

One position that the Bulls should be set at is running back. Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks both had breakout seasons as freshman in 2018 and will presumably split the majority of the carries this upcoming fall. Patterson played the first series and rushed for about 20 yards on three carries while Marks was out with an injury.

Fellow tailbacks Theo Anderson and Dylan McDuffie are hot on the sophomore duo’s trail though, and their performances Friday showed that running back is most likely the Bulls’ deepest position.

Anderson will be a junior in the fall and saw some game action last season as a backup. On Friday he finished with 49 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown.

McDuffie, a local product from Sweet Home high school, has turned some heads in camp as well. The will-be sophomore finished with 50 rushing yards on just seven carries and broke off a few big runs thanks to some shifty cuts.

“I think Dylan McDuffie and Theo Anderson showed they’re going to be very productive for us again,” Leipold added. “McDuffie has a bright future for us in this program and we’re using these guys in a lot of different ways.”

Special teams was a unit that was inconsistent, to say the least, for the Bulls last season. But on Friday, Alex McNulty showed the kicking game could be in good hands heading into 2019. The freshman from Rochester hit all three of the field goals he attempted and went 2-for-2 on extra points.

The Bulls will be off for a few months until they return in the summer to prep for the start of the regular season. UB will open 2019 at home against Robert Morris on Thursday, August 29. You can listen to all the Bulls games this upcoming season along with pre-game and post-game coverage on ESPN 1520.