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MACtion, Week 7: Intestinal Fortitude
It's now or never for the Bulls today as MAC rivals East and West jostle for position.
Image from UBBulls.com
It’s Week 7 in the Mid-American Conference, and it’s gut-check time. Buffalo (2-4, 0-2 MAC) is positioned to climb the MAC East standings with four straight games against some of the weakest competition in the country—but the climb must start with the first rung, an Ohio (1-5, 1-1) team that’s been an absolute mess.
A Bulls win puts the team right back in the pack. With a victory, UB improves to 1-2 in MAC play, knocking the Bobcats down to 1-2—the same record either Akron (2-4, 1-1) or Miami (Ohio) (2-4, 1-1) will be after they meet in Oxford on Saturday afternoon.
East leader Kent State (3-3, 2-0) faces West rival Western Michigan (4-2, 1-1), winners of four straight before getting trounced by Ball State last weekend, 45-20. A KSU loss keep Buffalo’s slim hopes of winning the division alive.
Nothing is written in stone. No team in the MAC is ranked higher than 64th in ESPN’s Football Power Index (Toledo); three teams (Ohio, Bowling Green, and Akron) are among the 10 worst in FBS. The rest are somewhere in between.
Anyone, in other words, can beat anyone.
#One4Mon Weekend at UB: Supporting Monika Simkova
A heartbreaking story, but also a powerful example of the strength of the human spirit. Please read and consider supporting this brave UB athlete.
With a full slate of athletic events to be held at home this weekend, the Division of Athletics will be holding #One4Mon Weekend, to increase awareness and help generate donations for University at Buffalo volleyball player Monika Simkova, who remains hospitalized for more than two months, battling a rare infection, which resulted in a bilateral above the knee amputation.
The weekend will begin on Thursday night at Buffalo's women's soccer game against Western Michigan, which is scheduled to begin at 7pm. It will continue on Friday night for volleyball's match against Ohio at 6pm and then conclude on Saturday with two more contests against the Bobcats as football hosts Ohio at 12pm and volleyball concludes its two-match series with OU at 4pm.
To hear more about Monika's story and to donate to her GoFundMe: click here
We Want #MACtion: The Week 7 Preview
Ohio at Buffalo (-7.5), Noon, ESPN+
Image from @OhioFootball
The Bulls need a win, and have the ideal opponent. The Bobcats lost their fifth game of the season, 30-27, to Central Michigan last Saturday, failing to respond after Chips WR Kalil Pimpleton snagged a Daniel Richardson TD pass with 3:55 left in the game.
Expected to compete for the MAC East title this season under first-year coach Tim Albin, the ‘Cats have been a massive disappointment. Ohio, ranked 120th in the ESPN FPI, is ninth in the 12-team MAC in offense (346.3 yards per game) and defense (427 yards allowed per game).
Bobcats to watch on Saturday:
QB Armani Rogers, a fifth year senior and situational player, got the start over incumbent Kurtis Rourke against CMU and responded with 198 passing yards and a rushing TD. Rogers had the ‘Cats up, 27-20, in the fourth quarter before the defense crumbled.
Running back De’Montre Tuggle is fifth in the MAC with 448 rushing yards.
Linebacker Bryce Houston leads the team with 19 total tackles, and safety Tariq Drake has a pair of interceptions.
Bulls WR Quian Williams, the MAC’s leading receiver with 551 yards, and fellow wideout Dominic Johnson (199 yards) should expect tight one-on-one coverage from Ohio’s secondary—although that may work in Buffalo’s favor, as it did for CMU.
Albin said Ohio played more man coverage against Central Michigan than it did against Akron a week prior. Even though Ohio progressed by containing running back Lew Nichols in the second half, not every play went its way. Central Michigan made big receptions in the final two quarters that paved the way for Ohio’s fifth loss of the season. Albin wants the cornerbacks to have a short memory and move onto the next play. ‘We’re going to play aggressive back there,’ Albin said. ‘We’re going to play man coverage. We’re going to have a pass interference from time to time. You just can’t have four of them like we did versus Duquesne.’
Albin compared the Bulls’ backfield trio of Kevin Marks, Jr., Dylan McDuffie, and Ron Cook, Jr. to his own foursome of Tuggle, O’Shaan Allison, Jake Neatherton, and Sieh Bangura. Ohio is fourth is the MAC in rushing yards per game (190.2 ypg), 19 ypg behind third-place Buffalo.
If the good version of the Bulls show up on Saturday—the team that hung with Coastal Carolina, dominated the first half against Old Dominion, scrapped to a fourth quarter lead over WMU, and dropped 28 on Kent State in a majestic third quarter performance last Saturday—they’ll win, and likely win big. A home loss to the floundering Bobcats essentially ends the Bulls’ season, and it’s hard to believe head coach Maurice Linguist won’t have his veteran-laden team up for this one.
Prediction: Take Buffalo, even with a 7.5-point spread and a Bulls defense currently giving up 431.8 yards per game, to win and to cover. Respect is earned, Bobcats, and you just haven’t earned it this season.
Ball State (-2.5) at Eastern Michigan, 2 p.m., ESPN+
Eastern Michigan (4-2, 1-1) is, perhaps, the least exciting team in the MAC. Consider:
The Eagles’ two losses—34-7 at Wisconsin and 27-20 at Northern Illinois—came against the only two competitive teams on their schedule.
Eastern Michigan earned its first MAC win of the season beating mediocre Miami (Ohio), 13-12, at home last weekend. The Eagles racked up…257 yards on offense.
And yet—EMU hangs around. Thirty-one of the Eagles’ last 35 MAC games have been wins or one-possession losses. The defense gets after the quarterback (17 hurries against Miami) and racks up takeaways (eight turnovers in 2021, leading to five TDs and three FGs).
Eastern Michigan also has the MAC’s second-ranked scoring offense (29.3 ppg) and scoring defense (22.8). They’re doing something right at The Factory, as Rynearson Stadium and its gray field is known.
Ball State (3-3, 1-1), on the other hand, is a tale of two teams. The Cardinals lost three straight after opening with a win over FCS Western Illinois, falling to #7 Penn State, Wyoming, and Toledo before bouncing back with impressive—dare we say dominant—wins over Army and Western Michigan.
The secret? A quick-strike offense that’s scored touchdowns in the first 12 seconds against both the Black Knights and the Broncos, and a brutal defense.
The defense has showed up in a big way since the beginning of the second half at Wyoming. Over the 14 quarters played since then, the Cardinals have allowed just 61 points defensively, which does not count a pick-6 and two safeties. That averages out to 17.4 points per game, which would rank 19th in the country.
That’s the difference to me: in its two losses and the ugly Miami win, EMU averaged just over 13 points a game. Ball State’s not a tomato can like Texas State, and the Cardinals have won 12 of 16 over Eastern. I’ll take the visitors. to cover and win in The Factory.
Akron at Miami (Ohio) (-20), 2:30 p.m., ESPN+
Image from @MiamiOHFootball
Both teams have QB questions heading in this game. Miami sophomore QB Brett Gabbert was injured for last week’s 13-12 loss to Eastern Michigan, and redshirt sophomore backup A.J. Mayer completed 16 passes on 39 attempts for a not-particularly-efficient 259 yards with no TDs and three sacks.
Akron went with third-stringer and pleasant surprise Zach Gibson (14-of-15, 177 yards, three TDs) in its 35-20 win over Bowling Green after QBs Kato Nelson and D.J. Irons were banged up.
RedHawks coach Chris Martin and Zips coach Tom Arth each declined to name a definitive starter this week. Mind games!
Miami may challenge Eastern Michigan as the most nondescript team in the MAC. Middle of the pack on offense, decent defense. Wins over FCS kickball LIU and MAC West rival Central Michigan. Maybe some hope of sneaking into the MAC East conversation with a win this week and what would presumably be an upset of Ball State next week? Otherwise, the RedHawks feel predestined to be a 5-7, 4-4 team.
Here’s who to watch, according to GoZips.com:
(Gabbert) and (Mayer) have split the duties for the RedHawks this season, having passed for 736 and 718 yards, respectively, while connecting on seven and three touchdowns through the air. Freshman RB Keyon Mozee owns a team-best 237 yards, while the duo of senior WR Jack Sorenson and redshirt junior WR Mac Hippenhammer have registered 452 and 412 yards, respectively, through the air en route to combining to score five of Miami's 10 receiving touchdowns.
Defensively, the duo of sophomore LB Ivan Pace, Jr. and redshirt freshman DB Matthew Salopek have combined to record 103 tackles, including posting 54 and 49 stops, respectively. Sophomore DL Lonnie Phelps owns team-high marks in tackles for a loss (6.5) and sacks (4.5).
I’ve documented my irrational optimism around Akron (2-4, 1-1) in the past, and yes, they are a bad team (#128 in the ESPN FPI), but 20 points worse than Miami? Not sure about that.
The Zips beat Bowling Green, 35-20, last weekend, scoring 35 unanswered points and recording five turnovers en route to victory, and…I don’t have much else. DB Tyson Durant was MAC East Player of the Week!
It’s been ugly in the rubber capital of the world.
Akron’s offense is ignominiously the MAC’s third-worst team in yards per game (335.2), rushing yards per game (115.2), and points per game (21.3).
Defensively, the Zips are 11th in the MAC in total yards allowed (439.2 per game) and rushing yards allowed (210.7 per game).
Arth’s bunch is dead last in scoring defense, surrendering 31.3 per game. A 60-10 loss to Auburn, 45-24 loss to Temple, 59-7 loss to #6 Ohio State, and 34-17 loss to Ohio (!) will do that to the numbers.
Another ugly trend: In the three-year Tom Arth era, the Zips have lost by a combined 115-14 in games after wins, notes George M. Thomas of The Canton (Ohio) Repository. Oh, and Miami beat the brakes off Akron last season, 38-7.
Do the Zips have any hope today? Um, maybe, writes Thomas:
If the offense can string together a running game, that was just good enough last week, along with the defense providing another good performance, the Zips have a chance.
Defensively, the RedHawks rank third (23.3 points per game) in scoring defense, fourth in rushing defense (157.8 yards per game) and fourth in passing defense (194.8 yards per game).
Offensively, they rank eighth (136.7 yards per game) in rushing, third in passing (242.2 yards per game) and ninth in scoring with 22 points per game. So, sure. There’s a chance if the Zips can put it all together once again.
I’ll take the Zips to cover, Miami to win. The RedHawks have only scored 20 points twice this season against FBS opponents. Akron’s bad, but maybe with Gibson at QB, they keep it relatively close.
Bowling Green at Northern Illinois (-9.5), 3:30 p.m., ESPN+
Image from BG_Football
Northern Illinois (4-2, 2-0) has quietly put together a nice little season.
The Huskies have one of the MAC’s signature wins of 2021, a come-from-behind takedown of ACC for Georgia Tech, and one of the the season’s signature losses, a wild, 50-43 defeat at the hands of Wyoming, a game in which the Huskies’ furious 33-point second half rally fell just short.
Squashed by #8 Michigan, 63-10, back on Sept. 18, NIU’s since won three in a row, including conference wins over Eastern Michigan and Toledo.
The Huskies’ strength is its run game (224.3 yards per game), led by RB Harrison Waylee (574 yards, 5.7 yards per carry, and 4 TDs) and QB Rocky Lombardi (319 yards, 7.4 ypc, 4 TDs).
A Michigan State transfer, Lombardi is the 14th-rated passer in the MAC, averaging 6.8 yards per completion on 138 attempts. He has five passing TDs and six INTs.
Not great, Rock! But that may play in the Huskies’ favor, as BGSU currently boasts its best passing defense in over 20 years.
The Falcons have held opponents to a 57.3 completion percentage, notched 16 sacks, and surrendered just 995 yards through the air in six games. Linebackers Darren Anders and Brock Horne have combined for over 80 tackles and three sacks. Safety Davon Ferguson is the only player in FBS with more than 45 tackles, two or more sacks, and four or more passes defended, according to BGSUFalcons.com.
Bowling Green’s fatal flaw is its offense: dead last in the MAC at 291.5 yards per game.
The Falcons have rushed for only 343 yards this season, a paltry 57.2 yards per game, second-worst in the country.
QB Matt McDonald is OK-not-great with a 122.8 rating (11th in the MAC). His 1,406 passing yards are second in the conference behind WMU’s Kaleb Eleby (1,438), but McDonald, like Lombardi, has thrown just five TDs with six INTs.
While he’s ran for three TDs, McDonald’s also been sacked 20 times.
Can the Falcons win this game as a road dog? One could argue that BGSU did pull off a truly shocking upset of Minnesota, and the Golden Gophers’ blueprint (run run run) is similar to NIU’s.
Recency bias, however, tells us just last week the Falcons blew a game to mighty Akron in which it held a 20-point lead. Perhaps the formula of zero run game, trusting McDonald to do just enough to hand the game over to the defense, and hoping its high-powered special teams—featuring a top-25 punting unit and one of the MAC’s best kickers in Nate Needham—make up the difference has worn thin.
That said, Northern Illinois doesn’t blow anyone out. The Huskies’ average margin of victory over non-FCS opponents is 3.3 points.
BGSU, with a six-point average margin of defeat to non-SEC schools, doesn’t get blown out.
NIU wins, but nine and a half points is a lot to ask of Rocky Lombardi. The Falcons cover.
Kent State at Western Michigan (-7), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
The MAC game of the day! Program your VCRs to make sure you have a permanent record of East-leading Kent State showdown against the Broncos, the West’s number-two squad.
A WMU win would be huge for Buffalo, providing a path for the Bulls—already with two MAC losses—to potentially elbow their way back to the top of the conference if they manage to win out. Not impossible! The Golden Flashes, 2-0 in MAC play, have NIU and a potential spoiler game against Central Michigan looming in mid-November.
Anyhow: Kent State enters this game with the top offense in the MAC (464.2 ypg) powered by a conference-leading #FlashFAST run game (239.5 ypg) featuring RB Marquez Cooper (479 rushing yards, 5.0 ypc, four TDs) and QB Dustin Crum (283 rushing yards, 4.0 ypc, and 4 TDs).
Crum can sling it, too, throwing for 407 yards and three TDs in the Flashes’ 48-38 win over the Bulls last weekend. WR Dante Cephas’s 484 receiving yards are fourth in the MAC.
But Western Michigan, as Buffalo knows all too well, can move the ball, too.
QB Kaleb Eleby leads the MAC in passing yards (1,438) and passing TDs (nine).
WRs Skyy Moore (44 receiving yards) and Corey Crooms (422 receiving yards) are third and sixth in the conference, respectively. Each have three TD catches.
RBs La’Darius Jefferson and Sean Tyler are sixth and seventh in MAC rushing with 435 and 414 yards on the ground, respectively. The duo has combined for 10 TDs—eight from Jefferson.
If it comes down to defense, the edge clearly goes to WMU. The Broncos are second in the MAC in yards allowed per game (315.3) and number one against the run (118.7 ypg).
Or does it? Kent State is the the worst statistical team in the MAC against the pass, allowing 255.7 yards per game—but have 12 INTs. Throw near defensive backs Elvis Hines, Montre Miller, and Keith Sherald, Jr. (eight combined INTs) at your own risk.
I think you have to take Kent State and the points here. In fact, I’ll take the Flashes to win outright, despite the fact ESPN’s FPI has the Flashes rated 94th nationally and the Broncos 78th.
KSU had one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, facing #21 Texas A&M, #2 Iowa, and Maryland back when the Terrapins were still playing well.
Upset of the week! Fingers crossed.
Toledo (-4.5) at Central Michigan, 3:30 p.m., CBSSN
Image from @CMU_Football
I’ve been wrong about both of these teams on a weekly basis. Never know who’s going to show up!
Toledo (3-3, 1-1) was the last team to beat Ball State before the Cardinals went on their current tear, took #14 Notre Dame down to the wire in South Bend, and lost by two on a last-second field goal to Northern Illinois last week. At the same time, the Rockets were clubbed by Colorado State and, well, blew that game to the Huskies.
CMU (3-3, 1-1) is the same. The Chips surprised some folks by hanging with Missouri in a season-opening 34-24 loss, but needed fourth-quarter rallies to beat pretty bad Florida International and Ohio teams. Even worse, Central Michigan straight-up lost to Miami (Ohio).
The key to this one will be defense. Toledo allows just 17.5 points and 313.7 yards per game, tops in the MAC, and leads the conference’s in defensive pass efficiency.
That’s critical, because CMU’s strength is it’s MAC-leading passing attack, currently led by QB Daniel Richardson (151.6 QB rating, nine TDs) and bolstered by Jacob Sirmon (123.1 QB rating, six TDs).
Central Michigan also has the conference’s leading rusher, freshman Lew Nichols III (591 rushing yards), second-leading receiver, Dallas Dixon (501 yards, five TDs), and top-scoring receiver, JaCorey Sullivan (six TDs).
The yang to this passing yin: CMU allows a MAC-worst 267.5 yards per game against the pass. That’s good news for Toledo QBs Carter Bradley and Dequan Finn and their favorite target, WR Devin Maddox (375 receiving yards, three TDs).
The question is whether Bradley and Finn, who’ve struggled to pace the MAC’s 11th-ranked passing attack (167.8 ypg), can do anything about it.
Tough pick! And a critical game, as the loser falls to 1-2 in the West division. Toledo was expected to challenge for the MAC title this season, and stumbling again could be lethal to its hopes—especially if Ball State and WMU win.
I want to take CMU because of its gaudy offensive stats, but I can’t get over the trouble they have on defense and the fact that they’ve racked up their big numbers beating bad teams. The Rockets are a bit more balanced and certainly realize their season is already at stake.
I’ll take Toledo to cover and win, although I feel great about neither.
Enjoy the games, everyone. Go Bulls!