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2018 Week 6 MAC Preview: Buffalo Bulls @ Central Michigan Chippewas

Teams trending in opposite directions converge in Mount Pleasant.

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

And then there were none.

Buffalo’s unblemished record was the last one in the MAC to finally crumble. The Bulls’ 4-0 mark fell to 4-1 in painful fashion, as Lance Leipold’s team was destroyed 42-13 by Army at UB Stadium.

Army’s triple option offense recorded 281 rushing yards and four touchdowns on Khalil Hodge and the Buffalo defense. The Black Knights didn’t create any turnovers, but they blocked a Buffalo field goal and returned it for an 80-yard touchdown during the second quarter. This 10-point swing would ultimately be the turning point Saturday.

In the second half, Army scored three unanswered touchdowns to seal the game and deliver the Bulls a loss for the second-straight year. With Army remaining independent, Buffalo still possesses a perfect MAC record (1-0), and the Bulls will try to update that win column during a trip west to Mount Pleasant.

Central Michigan (1-4) has been extremely underwhelming this season, but the Chippewas showed signs of life in East Lansing during a 31-20 loss to then-No. 21 Michigan State. Central Michigan held a 3-0 lead until the second quarter and won the fourth quarter with a 17-0 shutout. The team started strong, finished strong, but couldn’t contain Michigan State’s offense in the middle 30 minutes.

The Chippewas return home for a battle against Buffalo. Central Michigan has only faced one FBS team in Mount Pleasant this season, and it ended in a disastrous manner. The Kansas Jayhawks chalked up their first road win in nine years by obliterating the Chippewas 31-7 up north. The team’s other home contest occurred against Maine of the FCS, where Central Michigan triumphed to a lackadaisical 17-5 victory — its only win of the year.

Offenses

Buffalo Bulls

Buffalo’s breakout offense is manned by arguably the best quarterback in the conference, Tyree Jackson. Jackson’s injury issues in 2017 led Buffalo to struggle during the middle portion of the season, but the team has fared 9-2 in the 6’7” junior’s last 11 starts.

Saturday’s loss to Army didn’t pan out well for Jackson. It was his first game of a sub-50% completion percentage since 2016, and the quarterback only threw for 152 yards on 24 attempts.

In the rushing department, Emmanuel Reed and Theo Anderson were expected to carry the load for Buffalo entering the season. Instead, it’s been a pair of talented freshmen — Kevin Marks and Jaret Patterson — racking up those valuable rushing yards for the Bulls. The duo combines for 4.8 yards per carry and has produced 477 combined rushing yards in 2018. Marks is often utilized by the end zone, where he’s registered a team-high six rushing touchdowns this year, in the midst of a four-game touchdown streak.

On the receiving end, future NFL wide receiver Anthony Johnson suffered a leg injury and missed plenty of time in last week’s Army game. He is currently listed as day-to-day, so more of the production could fall to K.J. Osborn. Osborn’s led the team in receiving yards this year with 410. The junior from Ypsilanti also possesses a team-high six receiving touchdowns, posting the first score of the day against Army on a 53-yard touchdown catch.

The most underrated part of Buffalo’s 2018 team is its offensive line, which has yet to allow a sack this season. The Bulls are the only program in the nation that can claim this. Buffalo’s quarterback protection remains top-notch, and Central Michigan will have a hard time pressuring Jackson on Saturday morning.

Central Michigan Chippewas

Central Michigan’s quarterback situation has been less clear this season. The season-opener starter, sophomore Tony Poljan, was replaced in favor of senior community college transfer Tommy Lazzaro. Lazzaro recorded the team’s only win of the season in a start against Maine, but he still possesses more interceptions than passing touchdowns and has yet to throw for more than 160 yards.

The Chippewas were expected to be more dominant in the run game than they have demonstrated thus far. Running back Jonathan Ward averaged 5.7 yards per carry during an impressive 1,000-yard season last year. Through five contests, the sophomore is struggling to find daylight. He’s posted 182 yards on 60 carries, having yet to break out for a 20-yard run.

Central Michigan checks in at 130th in the FBS in yards per game, at a measly 256. Its scoring average of 16.0 points per game is only trailed by a UTEP team that has lost an FBS-high 17-straight games. After a prolific finish to last year’s regular season, Central Michigan has been unable to find any signs of offensive success in 2018 — a far cry from Buffalo’s offense.

Defenses

Buffalo Bulls

Inside linebacker Khalil Hodge is the centerpiece of the Bulls’ defense once again. The First Team All-MAC selection ranks second in the FBS with 67 total tackles in five outings. Hodge passed up former Buffalo great Khalil Mack in career tackles this season, establishing himself as one of the best Bulls’ defenders of all-time.

Outside of Hodge, senior defensive end Chuck Harris has made a magnificent impact on the field. Harris ranks third in the country with 6.0 sacks, forcing an additional two fumbles on the way. His 20 tackles in his last three games are impressive numbers for a defensive end.

Buffalo’s run prevention unit took a major hit against a run-heavy Army team last week, which skewed their secondary’s numbers in a positive direction and their rush defense numbers in a negative one. Luckily for the Bulls, Central Michigan has yet to establish a specialty on offense, so this should be a bounce back performance by Lance Leipold’s defenders.

Central Michigan Chippewas

If the Chippewas had any semblance of an offense in the first half of the Michigan State game, the final score could have been much closer than 11 points. Central Michigan’s defense did an outstanding job of shutting out the Spartans in the first quarter. John Bonamego’s team forced several punts and cornerback Sean Bunting came up with a momentum-shifting interception in the back of the end zone. But the offense had no response and kept the defense on the field for prolonged periods of time.

Central Michigan’s talent is also concentrated in the center of the defense, as the Chippewas possess inside linebackers Malik Fountain and Alex Briones on the roster. Fountain has shined in particular in 2018, in charge of the team with 62 total tackles, one sack, and one interception.

The Chippewas’ defense ranks 33rd in yards allowed per game despite their 1-4 record. Bunting and the secondary have also done a phenomenal job, owning the nation’s sixth best passing defense. If Buffalo is able to limit Jackson’s connections with Johnson and Osborn through the air, Central Michigan could find success in a low-scoring bout.

Game Notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, October 6 — 12 p.m. ET
  • Network: CBS SN
  • Venue: Kelly-Shorts Stadium — Mount Pleasant, MI
  • Spread: Buffalo (-7.5)
  • ESPN FPI Predictor: Buffalo has 56.5% chance to win
  • All-time series: Central Michigan leads 7-1

The teams first met in 1999, where the Chippewas won in 38-19 fashion. Buffalo’s sole win was registered in 2014, where the Bulls claimed a decisive 36-6 victory. Central Michigan has won each of the five matchups since including the last meeting: a 51-14 route in Mount Pleasant in 2015.

Prediction

Central Michigan’s offense can’t keep up punch for punch with Buffalo. The Chippewas are gifted with a slightly better defense but the offense has continued to disappoint week-in and week-out. Central Michigan performed decently at Michigan State and returns home against a Buffalo squad coming off a 29-point home loss.

I think Buffalo puts the Army game behind itself and dominates Central Michigan in the second half, after a low-scoring start. Tyree Jackson will rebound from his 10-of-24 passing day last Saturday and eventually find a way to defeat the Chippewas’ defense, whether Anthony Johnson is in the lineup or on the sidelines.

Prediction: Buffalo 31, Central Michigan 13