With six MAC games remaining, each squad is looking to rebound in conference play after an 0-2 start leaves them tied for last place.
Buffalo has some work to do to repeat as MAC East Champions in 2019 after an 0-2 start but, given the state of the MAC East so far in 2019, its still just about any team’s title to win at this point.
Buffalo is two games behind the 2-0 first-place Kent State Golden Flashes in the MAC East and effectively two games behind the 1-1 Ohio Bobcats and 1-1 Miami RedHawks due to head-to-head losses against both squads. Buffalo started the conference season with a mistake-filled loss to Miami (four turnovers) and then dropped an overtime heartbreaker to Ohio, 21-20.
Buffalo is one game behind the Bowling Green Falcons (1-1).
The Bulls are coming off a bye week and should have had some time to get some rest and heal some injuries. Key players like TE Zac Lefebvre should have benefited by some rest after playing with some injuries since the Penn State game.
Akron is looking to break an 11-game losing streak, dating back to October 27, 2018, when the Zips beat Central Michigan 17-10.
The production in the first six games of the Tom Arth era might remind fans of Rob Ianello’s first year as Zips head coach in 2010. Under Arth, the Zips are averaging 14.3 points per game while surrendering 36. Under Ianello in 2010, the Zips averaged 15.6 points per game while surrendering 35.1 points per contest.
There are some other connections between the Zips and Ianello in this game, starting with the fact that Ianello is currently the associate head coach and wide receiver coach of the Buffalo Bulls. Also, in 2010, Ianello’s only win of the season was against Buffalo, 22-14.
The Zips started the 2019 MAC season 0-2 after a week three loss to Central Michigan, 45-24 then a 26-3 loss last week to rival Kent State. Akron’s offense moved the ball vs Kent State better than the score would indicate. Akron drove the ball regularly into or near the redzone but could not come away with points, highlighted by two drives which stalled inside the Golden Flashes’ ten.
How each team will approach this game is pretty well understood after six games.
Buffalo’s offense will primarily run the ball with some deep throws mixed in when the defense becomes locked in on the run or to open the game to loosen things up. The Bulls enter the contest with the 18th ranked rushing attack in the FBS averaging 230 yards per game. The rushing attack is led by the MAC’s best duo in Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks, who have combined for 1,130 yards and six touchdowns.
Who will start at quarterback between Matt Myers and Kyle Vantrease is still unknown due to an injury suffered by Myers a few weeks back against Miami, but the run-first offensive style should remain the same regardless of the quarterback.
When Buffalo throws deep, they will likely get wide receiver Antonio Nunn involved as he is ranked 11th in the MAC in yards per catch with 14.9. If healthy, the Bulls figure to target TE Zac Lefebvre, who had two touchdown receptions in week one before battling injuries the last several weeks.
Buffalo has played its fair share of man or single coverage so it will be interesting to their approach against the Zips after Akron’s opponents have had suceeded defensively with a four-man rush and zone coverage.
Akron will put the ball in the hands of quarterback Kato Nelson and see what he can do. The Zips will spread the field and pass the majority of plays with Kato looking to pick up some rushing yards where he can by scrambling.
The Zips are last in the FBS in rushing with 57 yards per game and wont figure to do much here from the running back position with Buffalo coming into the contest ranked 26th in the FBS with 110 yards rushing per game allowed.
If the Zips are able to get something going on the ground besides QB scrambles it would likely be zone-reads by Nelson where he keeps the ball or running backs running off of left guard or left tackle, where the Zips seemed to have its most of their modest success last week vs Kent State.
Akron wide receiver Nate Stewart has been steady all year and leads the team 26 receptions for 391 yards and three touchdowns.
Akron freshman wide receiver and kick return Michael Mathison has shown the ability to develop into an explosive playmaker for the Zips. Mathison has multiple kickoff returns over 40 yards this season and is poised to break a TD at any point this season.
The defensive trio of LB John Lako, LB Bubba Arslanian, and DT Devon’te Jest should combine for 30-40 tackles in this game and will be key in Akron’s attempt to minimize the damage caused by Buffalo’s high-powered rushing attack.
The game starts at 3:30pm ET and can be seen on ESPN 3.
The Bulls are 17-point favorites and should win and cover the spread if they can eliminate some of the mistakes that were factors in MAC losses to Miami and Ohio this year. The Bulls should be able to run the ball and will have opportunities to hit some play action passes deep to Antonio Nunn.