UB’s offensive line is the anchor behind strong offense

The Bulls up front play a big role in team's great start

Jon Simon
September 26, 2018 - 10:57 am

Photo: Paul Hokanson - UBBulls.com

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The UB Bulls improved to 4-0 last Saturday with a lopsided 42-13 victory over Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J.

The win was a historic one for Buffalo for a number of reasons. Not only did the Bulls defeat a Big-Ten team for the first time in program history, but UB also received votes for the AP Top-25 poll for the first time ever.

So far in 2018, this Bulls team has made a lot of history. Each week there seems to be a program first or a player who reaches a big milestone or breaks a school record. It’s one of the many things that make this year's UB team special.

The Bulls offense has been the main story through the first four games. UB has scored 35 or more points in each game this season and have scored 31 or more points in each game during the seven-game win streak dating back to last season.

All season, the talk has centered on quarterback Tyree Jackson, the Bulls’ great receiving corps and a developing, but strong running game. However, a lot of the offense's success needs to be credited to the offensive line. One of the more impressive things about UB’s great start is that they have yet to allow a sack this season. In fact, they are the only remaining team in the country to let their quarterback go down.

“I think there are a lot of factors that come into play when you talk about not giving up a sack,” Bulls center and captain James O’Hagan said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Obviously there have been times this season where we haven’t had the best protection and Tyree’s helped us get out of it; but I think the thing that helps us is that we do a tremendous job preparing for an opponent and what they’re going to do.”

O’Hagan is in his fifth year with the program and has been named to the All-MAC Third Team two years in a row. Aside from red-shirting his first season, O’Hagan has never missed a game for the Bulls. The 300-pound Seaford, N.Y. native has started every game since the start of the 2015 season and has become a cornerstone in the rebuilding of UB football.

“A lot of [the offensive line’s reason for success] is preparation and no one in our program watches more film than James O’Hagan,” Bulls head coach Lance Leipold said on Tuesday. “From the time we arrived as a staff, James was the first one who reached out and said ‘coach I’ll do whatever it takes, I want to build this program into a winner,’ and he’s lived up to that each and every year. He’s got all the things you want in an upperclassmen, especially at the center position.”

O’Hagan isn’t the only player who has stepped up in the trenches this season for the Bulls. The offensive line has become a strong unit as a whole while also having some new guys in new spots this year.

“Paul Nosworthy coming in this season and playing tremendous has helped us, especially in the passing game,” O’Hagan said. “Paul’s done a great job, Kayode Awosika as well. They both played last year but not in the role they have this year.”

The junior Noswothry played in 11 games for the Bulls in 2017, but he never started and was in a rotation on the offensive line, seeing time at both guard and tackle. This past summer, O’Hagan took Nosworthy under his wing to help him prepare for a bigger role.

“Paul is a young man who’s very talented and evolving into being a good football player at the college level for different people come at different times,” Leipold said. "James knew that we needed Paul to take a step in his maturity and his play and he made that his priority over the summer to make sure he spent a lot of time with Paul. Evin Ksiezarczyk and Tomas Jack-Kurdyla have played a lot of football too. This group has seen a lot.”

Coach Leipold also touched on the fact that having a better running game and Jackson having more experience helps the offensive line. Leipold also said the coaching of the line has been a key factor.

“It’s a collaborative effort and that’s not even getting into  [Offensive line coach] Daryl Agpalsa and the job he does with our offensive line,” Leipold explained. “He’s not an old school O-line coach that’s going to motivate through fear and yelling. He’s as good a teacher as we have and I think you need that in today’s college football.”

It will take another collaborative effort to get a win this upcoming Saturday. The Bulls will host Army (2-2) at UB Stadium with kickoff set for 12:00 p.m.

Army could be the Bulls’ toughest opponent to date. The Black Knights took No. 6 ranked Oklahoma to overtime last week in Norman, Oklahoma.

With a victory over Army, the Bulls' win-streak would reach eight. The last time UB won eight straight games was in 1899, a streak that, similar to the current one, was started in the season prior.

That narrative will continue on Saturday for the Bulls. Win the game, make more history, However, the players are staying focused on the main task.

“I think the historic start is awesome, but we still have to take things a week at a time still and not to look to far ahead,” O’Hagan said. “History is great but I just want to keep winning.”

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