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LET THE #MACTION BEGIN
The weeknight slate starts tonight with Buffalo's biggest game of the season. Again!
Image from ubbulls.com
It’s a pretty simple formula: the University at Buffalo football team goes on the road and beats Ohio tonight (7:30 p.m., ESPN2), and their ticket to the Mid-American Conference title game is all but punched. That’s right—for the second week in a row, our guys are playing what could be their biggest game of the season.
While the division title won’t officially be locked up with a victory, the Bulls (5-3, 4-0 in the MAC) would have the East by the horns: a two-game lead on the Bobcats (5-3, 3-1), a two-and-a-half game cushion over Kent State (3-5, 2-2), and a one-and-a-half game advantage over Bowling Green (4-4, 3-1). Miami (4-5, 2-3), even with the return of star quarterback Brett Gabbert, is essentially out of the running.
Does it seem like we’re jumping the gun a bit by polishing the crown for UB in lieu of tonight’s game at Ohio? Consider the East Division schedules:
BUFFALO: After Ohio, Buffalo faces Central Michigan (2-6, 1-3) in Mount Pleasant, and then Akron (1-8, 0-5) and Kent State at home to close the regular season. With a win tonight, the KSU game may not even matter, except to buoy the Golden Flashes’ bowl hopes.
BOWLING GREEN: The Falcons—who turned out to be more resilient than initially thought—still have Western Michigan (3-5, 2-2) and Kent State in weeknight MACtion games at home, and West Division-leading Toledo (6-3, 4-1) and Ohio on the road. Even if BGSU sweeps those four games—and I don’t think they will—the Bulls still have the tiebreaker thanks to their win over BG earlier in October, assuming UB loses no more than one game.
OHIO: Worst case scenario: OU wins tonight and takes away the top spot in the East Division from Buffalo. The Bobcats have resurgent Miami on the road, a sledgehammer of a Ball State squad in Muncie, and Bowling Green at home in the season finale. Is Ohio winning out? The Magic 8-Ball says, “Don’t Count on It.”
KENT STATE: And finally, our friends from the Cleveland suburbs, who could—by winning out—still take the East Division by beating Ball State, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, and Buffalo ASSUMING the Bulls lose a game before the season-ender against the Golden Flashes. KSU beat Ohio earlier this year and hold that tie-breaker, so Sean Lewis’ crew could play the ultimate spoiler by rolling off four straight wins if, and only if, Buffalo takes an L before Nov. 26.
So it all comes down to elementary mathematics: the Bulls win tonight, and it’ll take a legit November collapse to pry them out of the MAC championship game in Detroit on Dec. 3.
But first, they have to win.
TONIGHT’S KEYS TO A UB VICTORY
Image from ubbulls.com
The defense has to keep doing what it’s doing. UB is ranked 80th in Division 1 football in total defense, allowing just over 391 yards per game, which doesn’t seem that impressive until you consider they gave up 446 yards to Maryland, 464 yards to Holy Cross, and 504 yards to Coastal Carolina in the first three games of the season. Since the second half of the Eastern Michigan game in Week 4, it’s been a different unit. The Bulls have the second-ranked scoring defense in the MAC, allowing 24 points per game, and are tied for first with eight interceptions. UB has allowed 25 touchdowns this season, which puts the group among the top 50 scoring defenses in the country. The secondary—with interception king Marcus Fuqua (tied for first in the country with five), brutal hitmen Jahmin Muse (pictured above) and Keyshawn Cobb at safety, and Isaiah King and Caleb Offord holding down the corners while Elijah Blades recovers from injury—has been nothing short of stellar. Ohio is a team that does allow some sacks (17 this season) but has, along with Buffalo, one of the best turnover margins in the country—making it critically important for the defensive line, as well as blitzers like Muse and linebacker Shaun Dolac, to keep the heat on Bobcats quarterback Kurtis Rourke.
Image from ohiobobcats.com
Don’t let Kurtis Rourke (pictured above) go off. The young man from Oakville, Ontario (just up the QEW from Buffalo!) leads the MAC with 301 passing yards per game and an efficiency rating of 159.7. I don’t know the math behind that, but I know it’s good. Rourke’s thrown for over 2,400 yards, has 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and harbors a pesky habit of picking up critical yardage with his legs (56 rushes, 310 yards, four touchdowns). Frankly, it’s not so much about shutting down Rourke, who’s just good, as it is about containing his receivers: Sam Wiglusz, a former defensive back who looks like the kid who shovels your sidewalk, has 579 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season. Jacoby Jones and Miles Cross have combined to catch 51 passes for 696 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Foster has three TD catches. Sieh Bangura, a D.C. product at running back, has 679 yards and eight touchdowns from scrimmage. Nolan McCormick’s ran for another 238 yards. There are no shortage of weapons for Rourke to choose from: the Buffalo defense just has to be the better unit on the field.
Image from ubbulls.com
Let Justin cook. It’s been great to see the emergence of receiver Jamari Gassett who, it seems, is riding his invisible motorcycle more and more lately. No one was more pleased than we were to see running back Ron Cook have the game of his life against Toledo, particularly at a moment when the Bulls needed a star to emerge. At the same time, however, it feels like receiver Justin Marshall is due for an absolute breakout game of his own. He’s had one 100+ yard receiving game this season—way back in Week 2 against Holy Cross—and other than a 75-yard effort in the snoozer over UMass, Marshall hasn’t had more than 52 receiving yards in a game since Week 3 (he did catch the game-winning TD against Miami, of course). This guy is too good to play decoy on the edges and do a little run blocking (although he is good at it). He and quarterback Cole Snyder haven’t been quite on the same page—no disrespect to Snyder, but his arm doesn’t seem ready to keep up with Marshall’s speed at this point, which is fine!—and it’s up to offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery to get the ball into the hands of the player who may be his most lethal weapon on the field. With the exception of highly-rated cornerback Torrie Cox., Jr., the Ohio secondary isn’t exactly stocked with future pros. It’s time for Justin Marshall to go off. UB may need 40 points to win this game, and a nice 150-yard, two-TD performance from the Louisville transfer under the bright MACtion lights would be a nice way to get there.
Alright—that’s all we’ve got. Looking forward to a big one tonight. Horns up, everyone.
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