What needs to be said about Khalil Hodge that you don’t already know? The NCAA’s leading tackler over his first two seasons with the Bulls, Hodge is out to anchor the UB defense, finish his college career with a bang, and cement his status on NFL draft boards.
He’s on the Bednarik, Bronco Nagurski, and Butkus watchlists and is this year’s name that we’ll hear too much of from underprepared G5 commentators doing games from three conferences a week. He’s more Kuechly than Mack, but I’d take either, and we know what we’re getting from the senior at the heart of the UB defense.
The more interesting stuff comes beyond Hodge: Who fills out the rest of the starting lineup, and who will make an impact in a substitute/rotation role? Beyond Hodge, it’s somewhat slim: Jordan Collier returns but otherwise only Kadofi Wright and Matt Otwinowski (who likely will backup Collier and Hodge, respectively, rather than slotting into the open starting spot) played in all twelve games last year, and the two barely combined for more than 30 tackles.
The group as a whole is young; while we can pencil in seniors throughout other defensive units and the offense, only Hodge, Collier, and Otwinowski are upperclassmen, and we’ll certainly see meaningful time from freshmen Tim Terry, Jr., who UB has highlighted a few times and had offers from Bowling Green and Toledo coming out of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral prep.
I had hoped that Justin Mulbah would return from injury right to the starting lineup after missing all of last season—he did, after all, appear in six games as a true freshmen in 2016, when it felt like everybody was appearing in games as a true freshman. But a benefit of my slacking here is we now have the two-deep for Delaware (State), and it’s another Pallotti guy, James Patterson, in the starting role, with Terry backing him up.
Production-wise, if this unit is “mostly Hodge,” it may be the Achilles heel in the most anticipated UB season since 2013. Last year, UB gave up nearly 200 yards rushing per game, which surprisingly was still good for ninth in the conference, and that’s not too skewed by the WMU game, where the Broncos had 161 yards on the ground by the half and nearly 300 even before overtime.
On the flip side, there’s room for improvement and some good competition among underclassmen in the rotation to really hone the best group by the meat of MAC play. I’d argue that this as this unit goes, so does the Bulls: Look for Hodge to be his reliable self (I’m sure we’ll take him for granted when he has ‘only’ an 11-tackle game at some point), and hope that a handful of fellas become impact playmakers on the edge to compliment Khalil in the middle.