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Five Things Learned: Buffalo 34, Central Michigan 24

Buffalo nearly “bull” eligible, Central Michigan not close

Buffalo v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Buffalo marched into Mount Pleasant for a battle with Central Michigan and exited with its third road victory of the year. The Bulls are just one win away from tying last year’s total of six. Meanwhile, the Chippewas have already matched 2017’s loss total with five.

The teams are trending in opposite directions, and that was clear during Buffalo’s 34-24 showing, where it remained one step ahead of the Chippewas at all times. Here’s what we learned from the game:

This is the worst team of the John Bonamego era

Central Michigan has been awfully consistent under John Bonamego. Bonamego’s teams have qualified for bowl games in each of his three years on campus, registering between 6-8 wins, but 2018 looks like the first drop-off. The team already holds five losses to its name and now is required to win five out of six games to keep the bowl streak alive.

With Western Michigan, Akron, Eastern Michigan, and Toledo awaiting on the schedule, it seems highly unlikely. Central Michigan lost plenty of senior talent ranging from quarterback Shane Morris to tight end Tyler Conklin to defensive end Joe Ostman. But the Chippewas have also underperformed, exhibiting the second-worst yards per game offense in the nation (271). They’re struggling in the run game and pass game alike and look incapable of moving the ball on the majority of possessions.

Central Michigan only lost to Kentucky by 15 and Michigan State by 11 on the road — which seems like a decent résumé for an average MAC squad. But that 31-7 home shellacking from Kansas will always put a blemish on the Chippewas’ 1-5 standing.

Barring an offensive breakthrough, which the team actually experienced on a 5-game winning streak last year, this team likely isn’t achieving the 6-8 win mark. They look inept offensively and thus qualify for the worst Central Michigan team of the past four years.

The freshmen backs are taking over

Heading into the season, most thought Buffalo’s backfield would be run by Theo Anderson and Emmanuel Reed.

Instead, Buffalo flaunts a pair of formidable freshmen, who both shined in the 10-point win Saturday. Kevin Marks and Jaret Patterson both received 18 carries versus the Chippewas. Marks finished with a team-high 167 yards, while Patterson pitched in an additional 121. Both halfbacks recorded touchdowns and rank first and second on the team in season rushing yards.

Impressively, Marks and Patterson average 5.7 and 5.6 yards per carry respectively. They both have shown explosiveness, as Marks bolted for a 70-yard touchdown run against Central Michigan and Patterson similarly scored on a 42-yard run against Rutgers.

We all knew Buffalo was equipped with a talented quarterback and receivers, but the freshmen running backs — with the help of the best offensive line in the MAC — are exceeding their expectations as well.

Central Michigan’s QB battle remains unsolved

It only took the third game of the season for the Chippewas to bench returning sophomore Tony Poljan for community college transfer Tommy Lazzaro after Poljan registered a 4-interception performance against Kansas. But the circle has now completed, as Lazzaro replicated that single-game interception total in Mount Pleasant last Saturday.

Lazzaro completed 9-of-23 passes for 117 yards and four interceptions, causing Central Michigan to send Poljan back out to the turf. The 6’7” sophomore conducted a quick touchdown drive in his only possession, completing 5-of-10 passes and finishing with a 9-yard score to bring his team within 10 points in the final minutes.

Although Lazzaro’s arm wasn’t on target Saturday, he rushed for a team-high 118 yards on 19 carries. His rushing ability helped anchor two scoring drives in the third quarter and keep the score respectable despite losing the turnover battle 4-1.

But after one year of Michigan transfer Shane Morris, Central Michigan has yet to determine his successor, and the signal caller could change from week to week.

After three road wins, Buffalo proves legitimacy

This had “trap game” written all over it. Buffalo recently got stumped by Army’s triple-option and lost its perfect record in ugly 42-13 fashion.

For a team that hadn’t achieved this much success before, it was important to see how strong the Bulls’ follow-up performance on the road would be. With the 34-24 victory, Buffalo demonstrated the maturity of the squad and that it is a legitimate MAC contender.

The Bulls have already rattled off three road wins in three tries, beating a decent Temple team in Philadelphia, dismantling Rutgers of the Big Ten, and edging out Central Michigan in The Great Lakes State. Road wins never come easy, especially in a conference with as much parity as the MAC. The fact that Buffalo knocked off two Power 6 programs and Central Michigan on the road adds more merit to the argument that the Bulls are the MAC’s best team right now.

Khalil Hodge and Malik Fountain never fail to impress

Khalil Hodge and Malik Fountain are arguably the two best inside linebackers in the MAC. Watching the two future NFL players alternate turns on the field was remarkable. Hodge, tied for third in the nation in tackles, finished with seven Saturday, playing a key role in Buffalo’s effort to hold Chippewa running backs to 66 yards on 17 carries.

Fountain is seventh in the nation in tackles and added 11 to his total in the loss to Buffalo. The senior from Chicago has now finished with five-consecutive games of 10 or more tackles.

Hodge’s team won the contest, but both surefire First Team All-MAC linebackers demonstrated their top-notch abilities in the interdivisional conference game.