NCF Nation: Brandon Thermilus
Buffalo’s running back corps continues to grow thinner and thinner.
Coach Turner Gill announced during the Mid-American Conference coaches call Monday morning that Ike Nduka and Brandon Thermilus are questionable for this week’s game against Western Michigan after both suffered sprained ankles in Saturday’s 21-17 win over Akron.
If neither player is available, senior Mario Henry will start against the Broncos. Henry is third on the team in rushing this season with 50 carries for 178 yards and a touchdown. He played seven games last year before suffering a knee injury that caused him to miss the next six.
“He’s actually a senior, so he has played some throughout his career here,” Gill said. “We just hope we hold up from there. We just hope we don’t have to get somebody as far as a freshman and bring him out of a redshirt to play if Mario gets hurt. That’s part of the football game, that’s part of life, and we’ll get the guys ready to play whoever’s next in line.”
Freshman Jeffvon Gill would be the backup. He’s played in the last two games and has three carries for 17 yards this season.
Buffalo lost starting running back James Starks to a season-ending shoulder injury prior to the season. He was the Bulls' all-time leader in rushing yards (3140), rushing touchdowns (34), and points (222).
The rushing offense initially struggled in Starks’ absence, but Nduka came on strong with 172 yards against Central Michigan and followed that up with a 131-yard performance against Gardner-Webb. In those two games, both wins, the offense was the most balanced it’s been for the Bulls all season.
Jan 3., noon, (ESPN2)
Connecticut take by Brian Bennett: Connecticut will play in back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history, but the Huskies aren't exactly streaking into the postseason.
They ended the season with two straight losses and dropped five of their final seven games after a 5-0 start. Uncharacteristic problems with turnovers and on special teams plagued the Huskies the second half of the year. Even with the return of senior quarterback Tyler Lorenzen from a midseason broken foot, the UConn passing game has been awful. Receivers have dropped throws and Lorenzen and his backups have been far too careless with the ball.
Buffalo has actually fared slightly better against the teams' two common opponents, losing to Pittsburgh by 11 and beating Temple by two. The Huskies fell to the Panthers by 24 at home in the season finale and nipped Temple by three in overtime.
Still, UConn hopes to have star cornerback Darius Butler (knee) back in time for the bowl. And Buffalo will have to find an answer for Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher who can surpass 2,000 yards with a slightly above-average performance in Toronto.
Buffalo has its own star rusher in James Starks, who ran for 1,308 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. And the Bulls' offense is far more balanced, as quarterback Drew Willy had 3,091 yards passing and 25 touchdowns.
Buffalo take by non-BCS blogger Graham Watson: Buffalo is a team of destiny, according to quarterback Drew Willy, and after the Bulls' improbable win over Ball State in the Mid-American Conference championship game, it's hard to argue the point.
Buffalo is one of the more diverse offenses in the MAC. Willy, receiver Naaman Roosevelt and running back James Starks are all record-setting performers this season. Roosevelt has five consecutive 100-yard games heading into the International Bowl.
Willy, who as thrown for more than 3,000 yards this season, is a four-year starter and is smart with the football. The Bulls like to utilize speed out of the backfield with screens to Starks and even Roosevelt. Starks and fellow running back Brandon Thermilus are both power backs that like to run between the tackles and over their defenders.
The Buffalo defense hadn't been all that dangerous until last Friday and has really struggled against the run. That will need to be shored up before going against the nation's best rusher in UConn's Donald Brown.
Connecticut will be the toughest defense the Bulls will face this season. The Huskies are 10th in the country in total defense (281.42 yards per game) and seventh in the country against the pass (164.50 yards per game). They haven't given up more than 259 passing yards in any game this season.