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Five Things Learned: Buffalo 31, Toledo 17

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Rockets are off to their worst start in a decade after Buffalo storms into Glass Bowl and completes comeback.

Buffalo v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Was it the passing of the MAC torch? Up-and-coming Buffalo improved to 7-1 after a 31-17 victory over 2017 MAC champ Toledo (3-4) at the Glass Bowl on Saturday. Thanks to home run touchdowns of 70 and 80 yards, Toledo was able to jump in front to a 17-7 lead before Buffalo dropped 24 unanswered points to finish the job.

Here’s what we learned from the Bulls’ fourth road win of the year and seventh victory of the season:

Jaret Patterson is one of the MAC’s best rising stars

The only thing scary this October is the numbers Jaret Patterson is putting up against opposing defenses. Seldom used in September, the freshman running back has become one of Buffalo’s most integral offensive players. In the past three contests — all resulting in double-digit wins for the Bulls — Patterson has rushed for a combined 302 yards and four touchdowns.

The Maryland native is averaging above five yards per carry and is tied for 17th in the nation in rushing touchdowns. Along with teammate Kevin Marks, he’s rushed the ball into the end zone more times than any other player in the conference with seven touchdowns. Patterson’s a fast back that excels at outside runs. On Saturday, he scored twice, including a 25-yard touchdown to wrap the game up and hand Buffalo its seventh victory of the season.

Toledo’s QB change didn’t make sense

Toledo broke the emergency glass and switched to the backup too soon.

On his fourth pass of the day, starting quarterback Mitchell Guadagni threw just his third interception of the year in six starts. Considering he’s thrown 11 touchdowns, completes nearly 58% of passes, and is still the Rockets leading rusher, the move seemed like an overreaction.

Backup Eli Peters entered and provided the Rockets a quick 80-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson immediately following a missed Buffalo field goal — and that was just about all of Toledo’s passing offense on the day. The sophomore completed just 5-of-17 passes and threw his second interception of the day — a downfield lob to a fallen down.

Cody Thompson that landed right into the hands of Buffalo free safety Brandon Williams. Peters doesn’t provide the same rushing threat that Guadagni offers and completes passes below the 50% rate.

Last week against Eastern Michigan, Guadagni nearly mastered a 25-point comeback, falling a two-point conversion short of glory. Guadagni didn’t deserve to be benched so soon.

Toledo’s WRs still aren’t getting their due

If you’re wondering why the 2017 MAC champions are sitting at a 3-4 record with bowl eligibility in question, look no further than the under-utilization of a star receiving corps.

Diontae Johnson is basically a track star playing wide receiver. It was evident on the wideout’s 80-yard touchdown on a streak route last game. However, that was only one of Johnson’s two receptions on the day. The First Team All-MAC selection has only caught more than four passes once in seven tries this year.

Saturday was also senior wide receiver Cody Thompson’s 41st game as a Rocket. Thompson’s caught passes for Toledo in 40-straight games, dating back to 2014, the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff. For the first time, he ended a game with a donut in the box score. Zero catches, and Toledo only completed a measly seven passes between Guadagni and Peters.

Failing to connect with one of the best receiving corps in the nation is what’s bringing this Toledo team down. The best position group on the Rockets is becoming a non-factor and Toledo needs to elevate its passing game to cater to guys like Thompson and Johnson, because the frequent up-the-middle runs aren’t working.

Buffalo is the most complete team in the MAC

A top-tier MAC quarterback in Tyree Jackson? Check.

A formidable running back duo with young talent Kevin Marks and Jaret Patterson? Check.

One of the most talented receiving tandems in the country in Anthony Johnson and K.J. Osborn? Check.

Elite pass rusher in Chuck Harris (missed Saturday’s game though)? Check.

All-American caliber linebacker in Khalil Hodge, surrounded by solid outside backers James Patterson and Jordan Collier? Check.

A secondary that ranks in the top 10 in passes intercepted? Check.

Buffalo has it all, and the team’s immense talent was on full display during the 10-point comeback effort against Toledo. Thanks to forcing four turnovers, using elite wide receiver Anthony Johnson to his strengths, and running the ball down Toledo’s throat, Buffalo was able to post 24 unanswered points at the Glass Bowl. The only unit that didn’t perform to expectations at Toledo was the offensive line.

The line suffered by allowing five sacks after only allowing one in the first six games. However, Buffalo was still able to emerge on top despite its line’s struggles. Other than that, this team demonstrated plenty of skill at all starting positions in the 31-17 win.

It’s not panic time in Toledo yet

The Rockets still field a talented team. They’ve had growing pains adjusting to the losses of Logan Woodside, some of their graduated offensive linemen, and defenders like Ola Adeniyi and Ja’Wuan Woodley.

Three of Toledo’s losses are teams with 5-2 records or better. Eastern Michigan, 4-4, is the only team .500 or worse that the Rockets have fallen to. To obtain bowl eligibility, which seems to be Toledo’s new goal given the trajectory of the season, the Rockets just need to beat Ball State and Central Michigan at home and Kent State on the road. That sounds very manageable.

The Rockets’ next game at Western Michigan on Thursday won't be easy, but I think it’s still winnable for Jason Candle and Co. But even if they fall to 3-5, as long as the team doesn’t lose to one of the three aforementioned winnable games, it’s not time to panic.

Toledo needs to reach a bowl game to salvage this season, and I believe that goal will come to fruition.