Buffalo shines at running back, linebacker positions

Matt Hopkinson

Quarterback: The season so far has been unkind to junior quarterback Alex Zordich. Zordich has had two games this season where he threw for less than 100 yards. He has just eight touchdowns compared to three interceptions. Four of those touchdowns all came in one game, which was the lone win of the season for Buffalo. The Bulls live and die with their quarterback, so if NIU can ease Zordich into another poor performance, the Huskies will be sitting pretty come Homecoming.

Running back: The Bulls have had two injuries crop up at running back already this season, as star back Branden Oliver has missed the last two games and No. 2 option James Potts is done for the year. If Oliver is healthy enough to play against the Huskies, he has to be the guy the Huskies key in on. The junior has already rushed for over 400 yards in just three games this season, scoring three touchdowns. If Oliver isn’t back or isn’t the feature back, freshman running back Devin Campbell will assuredly touch the ball. He recently put up 160 yards against Ohio.

Wide Receiver: A 6’3” junior receiver, Alex Neutz will be the top target for Zordich this game. The Huskies know Neutz well, as last season he put 135 yards on them with a touchdown. Neutz has posted 432 receiving yards in just five games this season, including a season-high 154 against Morgan State. Neutz has also corralled seven touchdown receptions. If Zordich can effectively get him the ball, he has the ability to make the big play. He has four plays of 30 yards or more, and two of them were over 50 yards.

Offensive Line: The 6’6”, 326-pound senior offensive tackle, Gokhan Ozkan, not only has a name that demands attention, but has the physical size, too. Ozkan and his fellow linemates helped Oliver have the best rushing performance ever at Buffalo. The line as a whole has only allowed six sacks all season long and was part of a group that kept NIU without a sack last season. For Buffalo to be effective, they will need good run blocking from Ozkan and the rest of the line.

Defensive Line: While appearing in all 12 games but starting just five last season, junior defensive lineman Colby Way still managed to lead the defensive line in tackles. He was also second on the team in sacks. Way has posted 25 tackles, three sacks and a pass break-up this season. Way will be the main threat from the defensive line to get in the backfield, but will also look to help contain the running game as the 6’4”, 276-pound lineman has the athleticism to get out and make tackles.

Linebacker: A sophomore first team All-MAC selection, junior backer Khalil Mack is without a doubt the leader of Buffalo’s defense. Mack led the team in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles last season, and he has picked up right where he left off. Mack has posted 30 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, a pass break up, a forced fumble and a punt block. The matchup of NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch trying to run the ball and Mack trying to tackle and strip the ball should make for an interesting game within the game.

Defensive Back: Leading the team in tackles from the defensive back position, as well as interceptions, sophomore Cortney Lester will be the pest in the passing game. Lester was originally recruited as a receiver but has since transitioned to defensive back and found his niche. Lester has posted 25 tackles and four pass breakups this season. At 6’0” and 179 pounds, Lester has some size and obviously good hands, and will be a threat to intercept and at least disrupt the passing game of Lynch.

Special Teams: With the menagerie of injuries and shuffling of running backs, Buffalo’s return game has also been on the mend. In the Bulls’ most recent game against Ohio, they had junior defensive back Okoye Houston returning kicks. Houston returned four kickoffs for 83 yards and a long of 30. While not having a lot of time back there, Houston obviously has the speed that can lead to a big play at any time from the return spot. Look for Houston to get most of the return opportunities, but there may also be some more shuffling left to do.