In October of 2014, former athletic director Danny White realized a change was needed with the University at Buffalo’s football program. Jeff Quinn was no longer meeting the high standards the young AD had set since his tenure started and as a result his employment was terminated. A month later, White made a flash hire with Division-III Wisconsin-Whitewater head coach Lance Leipold for the same job.
Leipold seemed to be a good fit: a six-time national champion and the fastest coach in the history of the NCAA to reach 100 wins. Although many questioned the hire with concern to his readiness, the bigger fear remained in the staff he would soon bring in. That staff contained four coaches from his Wisconsin-Whitewater squad, but for the most part they have done well. Brian Borland led a heavily inexperienced defensive unit to the point where they were one of the best teams in the nation for defensive touchdowns and Alan Hensell helped coach Matt Weiser to one of the best seasons a UB tight end has ever had.
The concern here is for the state of Buffalo’s offense. Under offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki — another import from Wisconsin-Whitewater — the potential doesn’t appear to be on the same level. For the past two seasons, Buffalo’s offense has struggled to gain any momentum. During some games, the offense’s performance is passable while in others the effort can be marked down as pathetic. What comes to mind for the latter are UB’s showings in their 51-14 and 35-3 losses versus Central Michigan and Boston College from the past two years respectively.
Many gave the offensive coordinator a pass last season and rightfully so. It’s tough to make a jump from Division-III to Division-I and dominate, let alone generate decent production right away. But, a regression from year one has occurred. In 2015, Kotelnicki’s offense may have not been the best in the nation but it certainly wasn’t the worst. The team finished 86th in total yardage, 54th in passing yards, and an abysmal 108th in rushing yards. The team also finished 82nd in first downs and 89th in third-down conversions. Just about all of these numbers are good for a team that was perceived to be just barely one of the best 90 teams in the country. But, like I said, 2016’s numbers are what generates concern:
- 127th in total yardage (even if you give us a 400 yard game because of the bye we’re still only 115th)
- 125th in passing yards
- 114th in rushing yards
- 127th in first downs
- 114th in third-down conversions
Every single stat I’ve stated above has seen a regression in year two. UB’s offense is easily one of the worst in the nation right now.
One can argue that the inexperience of UB’s roster is to blame. In fact, 42 new players arrived in Buffalo this summer for the first time. Although that’s the case, I refuse to accept that to be the only reason that the offense is struggling. I’d argue that UB’s offense has plenty of weapons to stay out of the bottom-25 in all of the statistical categories stated above. Kamathi Holsey is more than capable to be a dominant slot receiver with the speed he brings to the table while Marcus McGill is another proven wide-out after his success late last season. Add in an incredibly capable running back like Jordan Johnson and that’s plenty of tools within itself, not to mention the impressive rookie QB that Tyree Jackson is.
Kotelnicki’s play calling has been extremely questionable since he arrived at Buffalo. Surprisingly, his patented draw play up the middle to start drives hasn’t been taken advantage of by other teams. For the longest time the offense relied on a philosophy where you had to setup the run by passing first. The list of things this “multiple” offense lacks goes on: a distinct shortage of wide runs, no curl routes, and barely any screen plays.
This isn’t the worst of it though. Despite Leipold raving about bringing a balanced offense to Buffalo, Kotelnicki has abandoned the run game too often. The best example of this? Just watch Saturday’s replay of the Boston College vs. Buffalo game. It’s criminal to expect that Buffalo was going to rush for 150+ yards on Boston College, one of the best defenses in the nation. But, it’s also inexcusable to give up on the run game when it isn’t working because passing plays will also become predictable as a result.
I’m willing to give Kotelnicki the benefit of the doubt and wait and see if things improve by the end of the season. If there is no real improvement, the question is will he return to Buffalo next year? Although I have no ill will towards the man, I wouldn’t want him to be my offensive coordinator if that were the case.
This situation puts head coach Lance Leipold in murky waters. He has obviously shown loyalty to the men who went to battle with him at Wisconsin-Whitewater, but if UB doesn’t improve on the offensive side of ball what will he choose? Will he be the captain that stays on board with his crew of a sinking ship and hope for a miracle rescue, or will he make decision to part with someone who helped him greatly in his previous coaching stop?
The biggest difference so far between Leipold and his predecessors at UB has been that loyalty. Both Turner Gill and Jeff Quinn cared more about performance than promising job security to their coaching staffs. Leipold has been much more patient. Sometimes when you’re in an administrative role such as head coach of a Division-I football program, you have to pull out the “bad guy” mask. Should Leipold’s offense continue to struggle, it could hurt not only Kotelnicki’s job security, but Leipold’s as well.
Andy Kotelnicki could very well turn the offense around beginning this week and we’d all rejoice about it, but the grains in the top half of the hourglass are running out.