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BUFFALO FACING A MUST-WIN MAC ROAD TRIP
Luckily, it's to Akron.
Image from UBBulls.com
The bad news first: Rachel Lenzi of The Buffalo News reports DE Taylor Riggins and RB Kevin Marks are game-time decisions for UB’s Saturday road trip to Akron (3:30 p.m., ESPN+). Both missed the Bulls’ 27-27-26 win over Ohio last weekend.
Both are also stuck on the precipice of milestones: Riggins (17.5 career sacks) is two QB takedowns from leapfrogging Trevor Scott (19), Steven Means (18.5), Malcolm Koonce (18), and Dave May (18) on the school’s all-time list, while Marks is one TD behind James Starks for second place in career rushing TDs (34) and 11 yards short of 3,000 career rushing yards.
The good news: Buffalo (3-4 overall, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) is playing Akron.
The Zips (2-5, 1-2) are probably worse than their record suggests. Let’s look at their season to date:
#19 Auburn 60, Akron 10. Well, Auburn’s pretty good. The Tigers jumped out to a 53-0 lead after three quarters before Akron battled back to win the fourth, 10-7. D.J. Irons took over at QB with 4:58 remaining in the third quarter after starter Kato Nelson struggled to throw for 62 yards. He was sacked four times. Irons was pretty good! He went 13-for-13 for 129 yards and threw a TD pass to Jonzell Norrils.
Temple 45, Akron 24. Irons held onto the starting job, completing 12 of 22 pass attempts for 109 yards, a passing TD, a rushing TD, and an interception. Nelson appeared in relief and hit on seven of 12 pass attempts for 82 yards and a TD. Norrils ran for 66 yards, Michael Mathison caught eight passes for 101 yards, and LB Bubba Arlansian (who will be out against Buffalo with a hand injury) had 17 total tackles.
Akron 35, Bryant 14. The Zips were home underdogs against FCS Bryant at their own homecoming game. Don’t. Doubt. Akron.* Irons had another nice game—19-of-23 for 296 passing yards, three TDs, a game-high 136 rushing yards, and a TD on the ground. Arlansian notched 12 tackles, and LB Michael Scott recorded 1.5 sacks.
#5 Ohio State 59, Akron 7. Well, Ohio State’s pretty good. The Zips earned the ignominious distinction of losing by 50+ points twice in one month with this whupping at Ohio Stadium. Gotta pay those bills! Akron actually took a 7-0 lead in this game after Irons led the Zips on a 55-yard, nine-play drive that culminated in a four-yard TD pass to Konata Mumpfield with 7:27 remaining in the first quarter. The Buckeyes proceeded to close the game on a 59-0 run.
Ohio 34, Akron 17. This one stings—a MAC loss to struggling Ohio, a Bobcats victory that stands as their lone win of the season. Ohio scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to turn a 17-17 tie into a minor blowout. Another big game for Irons, anyhow—14-of-17 for 175 passing yards and two TDs, plus 64 rushing yards. Safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell added 11 tackles and fellow DB Charles Amankwaa picked off a pass.
Akron 35, Bowling Green 20. Bouncing back! The Zips outscored the Falcons 28-7 in the second half en route to the MAC win. Irons missed this game with an injury, and the third-string Akron QB, Zach Gibson, completed 14 of 15 pass attempts for 177 yards and three TDs. RB Blake Hester ran for 120 yards and two TDs, Mumpfield snagged six passes for 106 yards and two TDs, and Amankaa, Kelly-Powell, and CB Tyson Durant all recorded INTs.
Miami (Ohio) 34, Akron 21. The RedHawks built a 34-7 third quarter lead, and a 14-point fourth was nowhere near enough for the Zips to make a comeback. Gibson slung the ball 39 times, had 21 completions, picked up 291 yards and another three TDs. He loves Mumpfield, who caught 10 passes for 109 yards.
“Well,” you may be saying, “that doesn’t look all bad. And the QB play is borderline spectacular!” I’d politely disagree. A little back-of-the-envelope math shows Akron’s been outscored this season 266-117. Take out the Auburn and Ohio State games, and they’ve still been dive-bombed at a 147-100 pace.
The Zips are 10th in the 12-team MAC in total offense (335.4 yards per game) and points per game (21.3), and 11th in rushing yards (108 ypg). On defense, Akron’s ninth in passing yards allowed (228.6 ypg), 11th in total yards allowed (444.1), and 12th in rushing yards allowed (215.6 ypg). They’re dead last in points allowed (38).
ESPN’s FPI ranks the Zips 127th in the country, ahead of only UMass, New Mexico State, and UConn.
You do have to worry about Irons: the Bulls have struggled against mobile QBs, which they’ve seemed to face almost every week. Irons may be back from his injury, according to George M. Thomas of The Akron Beacon-Journal:
Quarterback DJ Irons could be seen during practice at InfoCision Stadium Wednesday morning. As for who’s starting at the position for the Zips this week, good luck getting that information from Arth, who once again reiterated he liked his quarterback room and hadn’t decided who would start.
Irons wasn't cleared to return to the field until late last week, and that resulted in Zach Gibson getting his first start of the season.
Gibson, who enjoyed success in relief in helping the team to a 35-20 victory over Bowling Green on Oct. 9, produced another successful outing — statistically speaking — in a 34-21 loss to Miami last week, connecting on 25-of-39 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns.
On the other hand: come on. Yes, this is a road game, but Buffalo’s treated the Zips like a chew toy in recent seasons, allowing one TD in their past three meetings—all UB wins.
After falling behind 21-0 to Ohio last week, the Bulls put together their most dominant three quarters of the season, outscoring the Bobcats 27-5 on the strength of RB Dylan McDuffie’s 143 rushing yards and a TD, QB Kyle Vantrease’s 251 passing yards (spread to 10 receivers) and two TDs, and a strong defensive effort led by veteran LB James Patterson.
We saw the Buffalo team we’ve been waiting all season to see, and while it’s difficult to be overconfident, there’s certainly reason to believe the Bulls—who gave Coastal Carolina its only competitive game of the season before its loss to Appalachian State on Wednesday, who somehow hung around against a Western Michigan team that hung 60 on Kent State last weekend, who outscored that same Kent team 38-27 after falling behind by 21 in the first half—may have finally figured it out.
Some want to make this the Kyle Vantrease revenge game—he’s from Stow, Ohio, just outside of Akron. Zips coach Tom Arth brought it up himself.
“If I was him and I didn’t have an offer from Akron, there would be a heck of a lot of motivation,” he told the Beacon-Journal’s Thomas. “I don’t know what that situation is, but he’s a veteran guy and he plays well every week and I don’t think he needs any additional motivation to get him going. I would think the opportunity to play in your hometown is always very special, so I’m sure he’ll be very excited. I’m sure he’ll have a great group of family here to support him, and we want to make it as difficult as we can for that opportunity.”
Not sure if I’m buying it, but sure! Regardless, Buffalo is currently an 11- or 12-point favorite, depending what book you check. Do you trust the Bulls to win by double digits? There’s really no reason to expect UB to cover at this point—Buffalo was a double-digit favorite to beat Old Dominion and a 7.5-favorite over Ohio, and nearly lost outright in both games.
I don’t think we’ll see a letdown this week. Let’s give the Zips, and Irons in particular, enough respect to assume they’ll keep this game relatively close (no one closes like the Zips! Maybe because they’re playing against the third string by then), but the Bulls should grind out a road win here on the back of McDuffie and a defense that is just itching to put together a dominant, four-quarter performance after showing flashes of brilliance (and, to be fair, flashes of ineptitude) throughout this season. At some point, everything will click.
And—lest we forget—this is a must-win for Buffalo, still a game behind Kent State for the MAC East lead. The Bulls need to keep banking wins if they have any hopes of a shot at the conference title, or a postseason invite.
I’ll take Buffalo to win and Akron to cover.
Confusing Spreads: Week 8 in the MAC
There’s a couple head-scratchers here, gang. Let’s take a look.
Eastern Michigan (-3) at Bowling Green. Noon, ESPN+. Right off the bat, this is a weird one: the Eagles (4-3, 1-2) is averaging 29.6 points per game while BGSU is dead last in the MAC with an 18.9 ppg average. Yes, the Falcons (2-5, 0-3) have a decent defense, and are third in the conference in yards allowed per game (396.1) and fourth in points allowed (25.1). Know who’s third in points allowed? Eastern Michigan. The Eagles are fifth in the conference against the pass (203.7 ypg), but can sell out to stop Bowling Green QB Matt McDonald and the one-dimensional Falcons offense. Three points seems like a sweet play here for EMU. I’ll take the visitors to cover and win.
Northern Illinois at Central Michigan (-4.5). Noon, ESPNU. Probably the Game of the Day in the MAC, and I’m absolutely flummoxed here. CMU (4-3, 2-1) has won two straight and boasts the second-leading rush defense in the conference—that’s critical against the MAC West-leading Huskies (5-2, 3-0), winners of four straight and owners of the 10th-leading rushing attack in FBS (237.9 ypg). Even without leading rusher Harrison Waylee (595 yards), NIU took out BGSU in a 34-26 win that wasn’t as close as it looked. On the flip side, the Chips lead the MAC in passing (284.7 ypg) behind 1,926 yards and 17 TDs from the QB tandem of Daniel Richardson and Jacob Sirmon while true freshman RB Lew Nichols III is 12th in FBS in rushing with 723 yards. I start to lean CMU…and then I remember the Chips beat Toledo in OT, knocked off Ohio by only three points, lost by 11 to Miami (Ohio), and needed a 21-point second half run to beat a lousy FIU squad. I’ve been wrong about Central Michigan week after week, and I probably will be again: I’ll take the road team to win and cover here, as well.
Kent State (-5.5) at Ohio. 1 p.m., ESPN+. Am I really going to take the road team to win and cover three games in a row? Gentle reader, I am. I know 5.5 points is not a key number, in the so-called “twilight zone” of picks, but Ohio (1-6, 1-2) is not a good football team. In fairness, the Bobcats lost by a point on the road to Buffalo last weekend, and the Golden Flashes (3-4, 2-1) were open-hand slapped by WMU, 64-31, crumbling in the second half by a 41-14 margin. Ohio, though, is 113th in ESPN’s FPI ranks and 11th in the MAC in passing yards (144.6 ypg) and points (20.3 ppg). Now, one may argue that this could be a get-right game against the Kent State defense, which is last in the MAC in yards allowed (477.4 ypg) and 11th in points allowed (34.3 ppg). That’s skewed a bit by brutal games against #11 Iowa, #17 Texas A&M (who beat freakin’ Alabama), and the Kaleb Eleby-led WMU squad. Ohio, conversely, lost to Duquesne. I know I mention that factoid every week, but it is important to note that the Bobcats, expected to be in play for the conference title, lost to an FCS team. I’m taking the win and cover for Kent State.
Miami (Ohio) at Ball State (-5). 3:30 p.m., ESPN+. Again, what am I missing here? Ball State (4-3, 2-1) has won three in a row, beating a decent EMU team, whipping Western Michigan by 25, and knocking out always-tough Army. The RedHawks (3-4, 2-1) beat up Akron—no great shakes there—lost by a point to Eastern Michigan, dropped CMU (legit win), but lost by 13 to the same Black Knights the Cardinals beat by 12. Ball State’s offensive stats aren’t great (ninth in passing, ninth in rushing, eighth in scoring), and Miami has a top-five defense in the MAC, which is maybe what the oddsmakers are seeing. I dunno. Ball State’s on a roll, and I’m sticking with them. Cardinals to win and cover.
Western Michigan (-1.5) at Toledo. 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network. Another contender for MAC Game of the Day, another funky spread. WMU (5-2, 2-1) beat Kent State by over 30 points last week; the Rockets (3-4, 1-2) have lost two in a row, albeit both by the slimmest of margins. Toledo is still the ESPN FPI leader in the MAC at #64, trailed by Western Michigan at #70. The Rockets lead the MAC in total yards allowed per game (315.7), are second in pass defense (259 ypg), third in rush defense (142.7 ypg), and first in points allowed (18.7 ppg). The Broncos, however, have won five of their last six and sit atop the MAC in points per game (31). QB Kaleb Eleby leads the conference in passing efficiency, touchdowns, yards, and points created, and WMU is second in passing yards (252.1). Senior LB AJ Thomas is back from injury and had nine tackles and a sack in the big win over the Golden Flashes. I know it’s another road game, but how can you bet against Eleby right now? I’m crossing my fingers and taking Western to win and cover.
All right—enjoy the #MACtion, everyone. Go Bulls!
*At home, against an FCS school, on homecoming.