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2018 MAC Football Game Preview: Miami RedHawks at Buffalo Bulls

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Tuesday’s game is pivotal to see who will take the MAC East title in 2018.

NCAA Football: Army at Buffalo Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

After a 10-day layoff for both teams, the Miami RedHawks will head north to square off with the Buffalo Bulls Tuesday as #MACtion proper begins in 2018. The contest has huge implications in the division as UB is 4-0 in MAC play while Miami is 3-1. A Miami upset could give life to Ohio (also 3-1 in the MAC) and Akron (2-2) in their quests for Detroit so a lot of eyeballs from around the league will be on this game.

The Bulls have been explosive on offense since entering league play as they have averaged 452.2 yards of offense in those four games. Freshmen running backs Kevin Marks and Jare Patterson have been a handful as they averaged 80+ yards each in those games Tyree Jackson is second in the league with 247.5 passing yards per game in league play. However, passing efficiency can be an issue for Jackson as his 59.0 completion percentage and five interceptions suggest.

The top two receivers for UB are playmakers as K.J. Osborn and Anthony Johnson have combined for 675 yards and five scores in MAC play. The offense has struggled in key situations during the MAC season as it has converted 42.6% of its third downs and has only scored 10 touchdowns in 22 red zone trips.

Buffalo complements its offense with an outstanding defense that held teams to a 47.9 completion percentage while recording 13 sacks and 10 turnovers in MAC play. Khalil Hodge is a force in the middle of the defense as he is a tackle away from his third straight 100-tackle season, something that has never been done in Buffalo.

The team also has some sack artists with Taylor Riggins recording four while Myles Nicholas and Chuck Harris have three each in league play. Aapri Washington is a talent on the back end as he hauled in two picks over the last three games. UB is dominant on third down as it has held MAC teams to 29.8% conversion rate, but is lackluster in the red zone as it has given up four touchdowns in six trips.

For Miami, they will be without the services of inside runner Alonzo Smith so Kenny Young and Maurice Thomas will again be splitting duties in the backfield. In MAC play, the two have combined for 232 all-purpose yards per game. Gus Ragland has been back to his efficient self in league games as he is second in the MAC with a 69.2 completion percentage to go with seven touchdowns and one interception.

Also earning his keep is Jack Sorenson as he has registered 20 receptions for 292 yards and a score in the four games. Miami hasn’t been a great third down team in the MAC in 2018 (38.6% converted) but it has made up for it by going 5-8 on fourth down, has only turned the ball over three times, and has scored in all 20 of its possessions in the red zone, including 15 touchdowns.

The defense battled through some injuries against Army last week but it played at the high level that it has played at for most of the season. Brad Koenig has been an impact player at inside linebacker with 71 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, three sacks, three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery this season. The season-ending injury to Junior McMullen was a hard pill to swallow but Myles Reid filled admirably against Army with six tackles. Miami boasts the best rush defense in the league (97.2 yards allowed in MAC games) as well as the best pass rush (14 sacks) but can improve on critical downs as MAC teams are 5-6 on fourth down and 8-12 on scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

If the game comes down to field position, it’ll be strength on strength as Buffalo averages 21.4 yards on kickoff return and 9.7 yards on punt return while Miami has the best kickoff return unit (31.2 yard average, one touchdown in MAC play) and the best kickoff team (45.2 yard net average). The kicking game favors the RedHawks if it comes down to that as Sam Sloman is 6-8 on field goals while Adam Mitcheson has missed three field goals in MAC play.

It’ll be hard for either team to run the ball against these stout defenses, so the game will likely come down to quarterback play. If that’s the case, Miami will have all kinds of opportunities to win this game with Buffalo throwing into an opportunistic defense with its passing efficiency issues. Pass protection will be key as the pressure from both of these defenses will be intense and the game will likely come down to a big turnover at the right time. Special teams will be interesting to pay attention to with two units that have been pretty good this season. 27-20 Miami with Ragland making enough plays late to seal the game.