The Buffalo Bulls (2-3, 0-1 MAC) host the Ohio Bobcats (1-3 0-0 MAC) in a key MAC East game on Saturday October 5, 2019 at 3:30 pm ET on ESPN+.
Despite the non-conference records, the Buffalo Bulls and Ohio Bobcats figure to be competitors for the 2019 MAC East crown.
Buffalo needs a win this week after a loss last week to Miami puts them one game behind in the MAC East race. Although not insurmountable, a loss to Ohio would put them in a 0-2 hole in MAC play and make a 2019 MAC East Title a tough task, given the potential for head-to-head losses against two of the the MAC East contenders.
Buffalo comes into week six looking for consistency after the last three weeks of ups and downs.
Buffalo started out predictably enough with a win over Robert Morris and a loss to Penn State.
A strong first-half performance at 15th-ranked Penn State showed that the Bulls are capable squad; however, the week after the Penn State game, Buffalo was unexpectedly beaten very soundly by a Liberty Flames squad who was 0-2 at the time.
Buffalo turned around its fortunes in week four and dominated a good Temple team 38-22, winning the turnover battle by plus two.
Buffalo traveled to Miami in week five and lost on a minus four turnover differential to a team who had just lost to Ohio State 76-5 the week before.
The Ohio Bobcats come into week six looking to start MAC play with a win. After a predictable win over Rhode Island to start the season, Ohio has been unable to play a complete enough game in all phases against to beat the tough competition they faced the last three weeks of non-conference play.
Ohio has the talent to make a MAC East Title run with players like QB Nathan Rourke and S Javon Hagan but they need to start putting the pieces together soon if they are gonna make it happen in 2019.
When Ohio Has The Ball:
As much as I think Ohio would like to establish a running game and play off of that, I don’t think that is consistently in the cards this week against a Buffalo unless Ohio can establish a passing threat first.
The status of some of the key members of Ohio’s rushing attack is in doubt with starting center Steven Hayes missing the last few games and Ohio on its fourth-string running back in its last game due to injuries. Hayes and some of the running backs may return vs Buffalo, but how effective will they be?
Also, the two things Buffalo has done consistently well this season is run the ball and stop the run. The Bulls come into the game with Ohio ranked 21st in the FBS (out of 130 teams) in fewest rushing yards allowed, including surrendering only 78 yards on 24 carries to Penn State.
Buffalo safeties Joey Banks and Tyrone Hill have really shined in run support so far in 2019.
Liberty and Robert Morris (although they couldn’t consistently execute it) showed there were opportunities in the passing game early vs the Bulls defense. With the Bulls locked in on stopping the run, Liberty and Robert Morris were successful on early downs with play action and run-pass options.
Based on how Buffalo played against Liberty and Robert Morris, I expect Ohio to get several single-coverage opportunities for its wide receivers. Ohio has the personnel to take advantage of single coverage, its just a matter of executing consistently enough.
When Buffalo Has The Ball:
All being equal in the area of turnovers and the like, the key factor in this game will be how well Ohio can contain Buffalo’s running game, as Buffalo’s running game, led primarily by Jaret Patterson, has been very successful this year. Ohio’s rushing defense is still developing, and has struggled to put in consistent performances thus far.
Buffalo comes into the contest ranked 18th in the FBS in rushing with 240 yards per game, while Ohio’s defense comes into the game ranked 112th with 208 rushing yards allowed per contest.
Buffalo features some of the most successful running backs in the conference with Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks ranked 2nd and 4th respectively in the MAC in rushing yards. In five games in 2019, Patterson and Marks have combined for 966 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
To get an idea of how good Buffalo’s running game has been, the Bulls won two games in 2019 averaging about 66 yards passing per game.
Ohio’s run defense is likely better overall than its FBS ranking suggests given that Ohio has faced the 3rd (Louisiana) and 36th (Marshall) leading rushing offenses in the FBS. Ohio has shown the ability to defend the run at a high level against good opponents but not as consistently as it needs to to win games. Marshall ran the ball in the first half vs Ohio very well but Ohio played much better in the second half. The reverse was true vs Louisiana, with Ohio starting strong against the run but fading in the second half.
If Ohio can force Buffalo to throw the ball, the advantage should shift to Ohio’s defense. Buffalo’s starting QB Matt Myers was injured in the third quarter vs Miami last week and may not play after missing the first three practices this week in preparation for Ohio.
QB Kyle Vantrease would likely start in place of Myers but it is really unclear how Vantrease would perform with only 57 career college passing attempts. Vantrese ia also the starting punter after an injury to Evan Finegan, so there's some concern about wear and tear to be had if Myers doesn't go.
ESPN gives Ohio a 60% chance to win and the spread is Ohio -3, which makes sense because this game could go either way. Ohio has not beaten the Bulls on the road since 2009 but I think Ohio has too much talent to extend its losing streak to four games. I have Ohio in a close win.