NCF Nation: James Starks

Armed Forces Bowl: Three Keys

December, 29, 2011
You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for BYU and Tulsa in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Friday.

BYU (9-3)

1. Slow down G.J. Kinne. There is no question that Kinne is the most valuable player on the Tulsa offense because he can do a variety of things. Kinne leads the team with an average of 273.4 yards of total offense per game and is always a threat to run out of the backfield. What should help BYU is practicing against its own running quarterback in Riley Nelson. But Kinne has a much better arm and is much more experienced, so BYU has to contain him if it has any shot at winning the game. The only true rushing quarterback BYU has faced this season was Chuckie Keeton at Utah State, and he had 22 yards on six carries.

2. Stop the run. Tulsa averages more than 200 yards on the ground per game, so making sure the Golden Hurricane are not running at will and chewing up clock will be a huge part of this game. Kinne certainly can win contests with his arm, but it puts an incredible amount of strain and pressure on any quarterback when his offense becomes one-dimensional. Tulsa does well with play-action passes, so stopping the run means taking away those calls as well.

3. Keep Nelson healthy. BYU goes into this game with no experience behind Nelson, so it is going to be extremely important to protect the starting quarterback. Nelson can run, and he is not afraid to give up his body -- that already led to one injury this season in which he missed several games. Jake Heaps, who was demoted and would have served as the backup, left the team when he decided to transfer. So that leaves James Lark behind Nelson. Lark has attempted only 10 passes in his career.

Tulsa (8-4)

1. Run it. Just as BYU has to make an effort to stop the run, Tulsa is going to try to run the football effectively. The Golden Hurricane failed to rush for more than 100 yards just once all season -- against North Texas. They also have rushed for 200 or more yards five times this season. Like BYU, Tulsa does not rely on one primary back -- Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts have each run for more than 800 yards this season, and they are vastly different runners.

2. Force third-and-long. Third-down defense is going to be important for Tulsa in this game. BYU ranks No. 3 in the nation in third-down conversions at 52.94 percent. Tulsa has not been the best in this category, ranking No. 83 in third-down defense while allowing opponents to convert 42.7 percent of the time. Coach Bill Blankenship knows his team has to limit the big plays and force BYU into uncomfortable passing situations, because that is not an area of strength for the Cougars.

3. Limit the mistakes. Neither team has been great in turnover margin. In fact, both teams are in negative territory here. But both coaches realize this is an important aspect to this game because one turnover could really change the outcome. After leading the nation in interceptions a year ago with 24, that number has dropped to 16 for Tulsa, so it will be important to get to Nelson and force him into mistakes.
Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour will not throw at the NFL scouting combine this weekend.

Central Florida coach George O’Leary said he is “annoyed” that NCAA infractions happened on his watch.

Idaho has hired former San Diego Chargers tight end Al Pupunu to coach the Vandals' tight ends.

Buffalo running back James Starks has added some bulk and expects to run a 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine.

Hawaii coach Greg McMackin looks to revamp his coaching staff as he heads into a critical third year.

Bowling Green receiver Freddie Barnes is preparing to impress NFL scouts.

Buffalo losing depth at RB

October, 19, 2009
Posted by’s Graham Watson

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.

Posted by's Graham Watson

DETROIT -- The perfect season is in some serious jeopardy.

Buffalo returned two fumbles for touchdowns to take a 28-17 lead into the fourth quarter. The two fumble recoveries for touchdowns ties an NCAA record set by USC in 2003.

And early it looked like Ball State was going to take a 10-point lead.

It started with James Starks fumbling his second ball of the game. Ball State took its drive to the 2-yard line before Ball State quarterback Nate Davis tried to do his best Sam Bradford flying-through-the-air-at-the-goal-line impression and fumbled the ball. It was picked up Mike Newton and run back 92 yards for a Buffalo touchdown.

On Ball State's next series, Ball State center Dan Gerberry snapped the ball before Davis was ready and it was picked up by cornerback Sherrod Lott and returned 74 yards.

All night there's been something off about Ball State, but it looked there was some semblance of rhythm early in the third quarter. That's gone now, and the Cardinals find themselves in unfamiliar territory, down 11 heading into the fourth quarter. The Cardinals have not faced a fourth-quarter deficit this large this season.

And Buffalo know how to close out game and play to close endings. Buffalo has played in four overtime games this season and is 3-1. It's played three games with point differentials of a field goal or less.

Ball State was in a tight fourth quarter game against Central Michigan and won late. Otherwise, it hasn't had much competition beyond the third quarter.

While I thinking about it, there have been a couple records set during this game:

  • Buffalo quarterback Drew Willy became the first Buffalo quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season. The threshold was broken on the second touchdown pass to Naaman Roosevelt.
  • Ball State running back MiQuale Lewis set the single-season rushing record when he hit 1,625 in the third quarter. He has over 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
  • Ball State receiver Briggs Orsbon has 11 catches, which is a new MAC Championship record.
Posted by's Graham Watson

DETROIT -- The first half of the Mid-American Conference Championship hasn't turned out to be the offensive affair that many -- including the coaches and players -- expected it to be.

Ball State had a terrible first quarter and a decent second quarter to take a 10-7 lead into halftime. Ian McGarvey made a 47-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give the Cardinals the lead.

Buffalo was just the opposite. It had a great first quarter, jumped out to a 7-0 lead, and then tanked in the second quarter. The personal foul (helmet-to-helmet) penalty set up the Cardinals' first score and a fumble by James Starks in his own zone set up the field goal.

So, neither team has put its best work on the field so far tonight, but at least it's made for a close and interesting game.

Both teams have done a good job of trying to mix up their offensive schemes. The running games have been good for both teams and the passing game has been decent. Neither team has attempted many deep passes and there was probably a record set for the most screen passes in a half.

Both teams are playing it close to the vest and capitalizing on mistakes, but one team will have to open it up if it wants to take control of this game.