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WAKE UP: IT'S YOUR BOWLING GREEN V. BUFFALO GAME DAY PREVIEW
Should the Bulls roll over their MAC rivals today? Yes. Yes, they should.
Image from UBBulls.com
Another week, another must-win for Buffalo.
Fortunately for the Bulls (4-4 overall, 2-2 in MAC play), it’s Week 3 of UB’s three-week run through the worst teams in the Mid-American Conference and, arguably, the country.
This home game, a “blackout” (wear black if you’re going to UB Stadium), starts at noon and will be televised on CBS Sports Network. The Bulls are 13.5-point favorites.
Bulls In, Bulls Out
Buffalo expects fifth-year senior RB Kevin Marks, Jr. to return after missing a pair of games with a lower-body injury. While Marks—11 yards away from 3,000 rushing yards as a Bull—was out, junior Dylan McDuffie ran for 254 yards, two touchdowns, and possibly the full-time gig in the UB backfield.
On the flip side, fifth year senior edge rusher Taylor Riggins remains out, missing his third consecutive game and fourth of the past six with a lower body injury of his own. Riggins has played just two games since earning MAC East Defensive Player of the Week honors way back in Week Four.
His fellow defensive end, junior Max Michel—who’s tied for third on the team with Riggins in sacks with four apiece—is questionable with another of these seemingly contagious lower body injuries.
This isn’t necessarily the worst news for the Buffalo defense. Of course, head coach Maurice Linguist wants these two dangerous pass rushers in the lineup, but the Bulls did record, as Rachel Lenzi of The Buffalo News noted, 7.5 of 11 sacks in the 45-10 win over Akron last week after Michel left the game.
UB’s 11 sacks were the most in FBS since 2019. Up-and-coming sophomore DE Kyler Laing recorded 3.5 sacks, a Buffalo record, earning the Quick Lane Bowl Defensive Player of the Week award.
Another Must-Win for Buffalo
The Bulls need a win over the struggling Falcons to keep pace in the MAC East division after digging themselves an 0-2 hole with back-to-back losses to Western Michigan and Kent State to open conference play. UB’s responded with wins over dismal Ohio (#117, ESPN FPI) and the lowly Zips (#128, ESPN FPI) in the past two weeks, moving into third place in the division, one game behind Miami (Ohio) (4-4, 3-1) and KSU (4-4, 3-1).
Buffalo faces those RedHawks in its next game on Tuesday, Nov. 9 on national television.
The Bulls are climbing the charts nationally after a lackluster 12 quarters spanning the second half of the 35-34 win over Old Dominion to the first half of its 27-26 victory against Ohio. UB has the 45th-ranked scoring offense in FBS, averaging 31.6 points per game. Buffalo’s 29th nationally in rushing offense at 204.4 yards per game on the ground, and eighth in the country with 22 rushing TDs. McDuffie is 42nd in FBS with 600 rushing yards, and tied for seventh in rushing TDs with seven.
Specific to the MAC, the Bulls are fourth in offensive yards per game (418.1), ninth in passing yards per game (213.8), and third in rushing yards per game. McDuffie is fourth in the conference in rushing yards, and fifth year senior WR Quian Williams is fourth in receiving yards (597). Another fifth-year man, QB Kyle Vantrease, is fifth in the MAC in completion percentage (62.3%) and passing yards (1,664).
On defense, UB’s pass rush has been fearsome, and its 29 sacks are good for seventh in FBS (more on that below). The team’s also eighth overall in red zone defense, which has allowed our guys to stick around in some tough games (I’m thinking Nebraska, Coastal Carolina, WMU…) in which the defense took a beating that’s not immediately reflected in the final score.
Buffalo’s D is 86th in the country, allowing over 400 yards per game. The Bulls are seventh in the MAC in yards allowed per game, ninth in rushing yards allowed (196.8) and fourth in points allowed (25.6). Senior LB James Patterson is ninth in the nation in total tackles (78) and tackles per game (9.8) and fourth in assisted tackles (45).
The Falcons: Not Good
So what’s this mean for Bowling Green? The Falcons have scored 90 points in its last four games, which doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that a 22.5 point-per-game average would place BGSU at 106th in FBS, between South Florida and Purdue—not exactly offensive juggernauts. Bad news for Bowling Green: their true season scoring average is actually 19.6 points per game, or 119th overall.
The Falcons have an almost impressively abysmal rushing offense—79.3 yards per game, 128th in FBS, or third-worst in America—which is actually trending upwards after back-to-back weeks of 130 rushing yards in a 55-24 loss to Eastern Michigan and 161 rushing yards in a 34-26 loss to Northern Illinois.
Don’t be fooled by either: QB Matt McDonald was the team’s leading runner in the NIU game, and RB Terion Stewart led BGSU with a mere 57 yards against the Eagles last week. Bowling Green can’t run the ball.
But can they sling it? Meh. Ranked 65th overall, the Falcons are exactly in the middle of the FBS, and are fifth in passing yards per game (235.6) in the MAC. They also average the fewest yards per completion (6.4), have the second-least passing TDs (6), and have thrown the most interceptions (8). BGSU is also dead last in the conference in passer rating (114.2), which kind of makes sense when opponents have zero fear of the running game.
McDonald, who transferred to Bowling Green from Boston College after the 2018 season, is the son of former USC QB Paul McDonald, and his brother Michael won a pair of NCAA titles as a backup for the Trojans during the Pete Carroll era. He’s a pro-style QB who can run a bit, but certainly isn’t a scrambler like Adrian Martinez, Grayson McCall, D.J. Mack, or the other dual threats Buffalo seems to see every week.
Sophomore Tyrone Broden leads the Falcons with 433 receiving yards and three TDs. Austin Osborne—a University of Washington transfer and former teammate of McDonald at high school football powerhouse Mission Viejo (Calif.)—has 373 receiving yards and a TD.
Say this about the Falcons: they hang around. They’ve covered the spread in six of eight games, and are 4-0 in games in which they’re underdogs by 13.5-points or more. Again, sounds good until you remember they’ve been 13.5-point underdogs in four games.
BGSU’s signature win was a 14-10 mud fight over Minnesota, quietly one of the better teams in the Big Ten this season. It was the biggest upset (Bowling Green was a 30.5-point underdog) in college football since 2019, when Illinois beat then-#11 Wisconsin. The Falcons and Gophers combined for 433 yards of offense and five turnovers. Not a classic! Since that victory, BGSU has lost four straight.
Bowling Green is fourth in the MAC in yards allowed per game (360.1)and number one against the pass (169.6 passing yards allowed per game). They allow 190 rushing yards and nearly 29 points per game, including 55 in a 31-point loss to EMU last weekend.
Junior LB Darren Anders is a tackling machine on par with Buffalo’s Patterson—he’s the leading tackler in the conference with 79 total takedowns, and among the top five in the nation. Senior CB Davon Ferguson is also responsible for 68 tackles per game.
The Falcons are one of the most-penalized teams in FBS, with 63 flags in eight games. They’re one of the worst teams in the country at stopping teams on third down, allowing conversions at a .458 clip. They’re 106th in red zone defense.
They also lack leadership! From Corey Crisan of The Toledo Blade:
There is a difference between a veteran and a leader.
Eight games into Bowling Green State University’s football season, the team is still searching for a larger showing from the latter.
When BGSU upset Minnesota one month ago to the date from Monday, things fell into place at the right time. The Falcons are 0-4 since then with each loss to a Mid-American Conference opponent, and following Saturday’s blowout home loss to Eastern Michigan, head coach Scot Loeffler called upon someone — anyone — to step up in a leadership role.
The first step to that, Loeffler hopes, was taken Monday in preparation for a Buffalo team that has won its previous two games.
“The championship teams are player-driven teams, and we’re still not at that point yet,” Loeffler said. “We have enough leadership that is going to run the locker room, that’s going to spark practice, that’s going to hold other people accountable for practice for effort, for attention to detail, and that will occur with time, but one of our major issues is that right there. And that one, I don’t know if it can be corrected right now, but we need to get it started.”
Look: all of this should add up to a big Bulls win. It’s supposed to be cold and rainy in Buffalo today, not exactly conducive to a team that can’t run the ball and isn’t great at stopping the run. UB needs this one, the Bulls are trending upwards, and it’s hard to believe Linguist will allow his team to have a letdown against an overmatched opponent at home. A win sets up a huge game against Miami on Nov. 9; a loss essentially sticks a pin in the season. This is a huge game for Buffalo.
Let’s put a bow on this too-long preview with a final note: the Bulls beat Akron, 45-10 last weekend. Akron beat Bowling Green, 35-20, earlier this month. UB should roll ‘em. Take the cover and the win for Buffalo.
Alex McNulty: What a Run
It’s been one of those highest of highs, lowest of lows seasons for Buffalo K Alex McNulty. He’s had a couple really bad games—one for four on field goal attempts at Nebraska, one for three against Kent State, including two fourth-quarter misses (one an absolute killer from 23 yards out)—but bounced back to beat Ohio on Oct. 16 with a last-second, game-winning kick and, after his performance in the Bulls’ 45-10 win over Akron on Oct. 23, he won the MAC East Special Teams Player of the Week award. The junior from Caledonia, NY hit his lone field goal attempt and booted six of six extra points. He’s 28-of-28 on PATs this season, and 113-of-116 in his career.
So Long, Fellas
Two UB players entered the transfer portal this month: CB Larry Robbins, a two-star recruit from Miami, Fla. who missed 2020 with an injury after posting one tackle in 2019; and WR Daniel Lee, a Louisiana native and juco transfer who caught 23 balls for 284 yards and a TD in 2019 before missing 2020 with an injury of his own. Neither appeared in a game this season. Best wishes for a successful future, gentlemen.
Bulls and Bulldogs, Living Together
Buffalo and top-ranked Georgia are the only two teams to rank in the top 10 in the nation in sacks and sacks allowed. The Bulls rank 7th in sacks (29) and 4th in sacks allowed (4). Georgia ranks 10th in sacks and 5th in sacks allowed.
The Bulldogs, like the Bulls, are two-TD favorites today: Florida’s getting 14 points at the game formerly known as the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party in Jacksonville this afternoon.
Thamel notes in a subsequent tweet that expansion is not imminent, but on the table. That being said, whenever these conversations pop up, it seems action is hot on its heels. From a self-preservation POV, it probably makes sense for the MAC to expand its southern footprint, which is currently non-existent.
For these schools in particular, jumping off the sinking raft that is Conference USA—eight members, including UAB (AAC), Florida Atlantic (AAC), Charlotte (AAC), North Texas (AAC), Old Dominion (Sun Belt), Rice (AAC), Southern Mississippi (Sun Belt), and UT San Antonio (AAC) are in the process of bailing out—and entering the surprisingly stable MAC is a logical move, as well.
Western Kentucky is 3-4 overall and 2-1 in CUSA this season, and are currently in a four-way tie for first place in the East division. The Hilltoppers have appeared in seven bowl games in the past decade, including a 2019 win over Western Michigan in the First Responders Bowl.
Middle Tennessee is 3-4 overall and 1-2 in CUSA, in second place behind the foursome atop the East division. The Blue Raiders went to four consecutive bowl games from 2015 to 2018 before struggling to a 7-14 record over 2019 and 2020.
This Week’s MACtion Actually Starts Next Week
Bowling Green-Buffalo is the only MAC game today—we’re about to hit #MACtion time, when MAC teams play on national television on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the remainder of the regular season. Ball State visits Akron, Miami (Ohio) takes on Ohio, and Eastern Michigan heads to Toledo on Tuesday, Nov. 2 while Central Michigan has a prime time date with Western Michigan and Northern Illinois drops by Kent State for a pair of good Wednesday, Nov. 3 night games. We will, of course, preview the #MACtion for you, so keep an eye on your inbox.
Have a good Saturday, everyone. Go Bulls!