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2018 UB Football position previews: Running backs

NCAA Football: Buffalo at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

We can only ponder how successful the 2017 edition of UB Football would’ve been if either Tyree Jackson or the now-departed Drew Anderson stayed healthy. The Bulls were just one win away from collecting a bowl berth despite relying on a freshman quarterback in three games.

While the program made significant progress from its 2-10 campaign a year prior, one of the units that struggled in terms of consistency was UB’s running back squad.

The biggest problem UB faced was the loss of Johnathan Hawkins. The junior played in just three games last year before he was sidelined to injury, forcing the Bulls to count on relatively inexperienced backs Emmanuel Reed and Theo Anderson.

On seven occasions, UB rushed for less than 150 yards last year and all six of the Bulls’ losses fell into this category. Even worse, contests against Minnesota, Northern Illinois, Miami (OH), and Ohio saw less than 70 rushing yards in the game.

UB did have its fair share of rushing success, however. Reed managed a solid 840-yard, 12-touchdown campaign after starting the remaining nine games and the Bulls eclipsed the 200-yard mark in rushing in multiple instances.

The experience that Reed garnered in Hawkins’ absence will prove crucial as Buffalo boasts two proficient running backs this year. The duo should break away from last year’s inconsistency in the back field, especially with a fierce passing game to keep defenses on their toes.

Hawkins has a wide skill set and should make a potent UB offense even more dangerous this season. On top of being the more elusive of the two backs, Hawkins is versatile and adept in the passing game as well. He was on the receiving end of a touchdown and 119 yards two seasons ago despite backing up former UB RB Jordan Johnson.

Reed will likely backup for Hawkins this season, which shouldn’t be a huge problem. He brings a much different skill set that resembles more of a power back with capable blocking skills as well.

Hawkins and Reed should be able to take the offense to the next level, but Buffalo still has Theo Anderson and Kevin Marks, a redshirt freshman. According to head coach Lance Leipold, both will likely get into the mix this season to relieve the Bulls’ go-to backs.

Regardless, the running backs have a lot of room to improve this season, especially now that the top back is healthy. Any improvement is just icing on the cake for a UB team that is already expected to have the best season in program history.