It is the final game of the season for the Bowling Green. After a run of three consecutive MAC Championship appearances from 2013-15, the Falcons (3-8, 2-5 MAC) will wind up losing eight games or more for the fourth-straight season. They’ll hope to finish off 2019 with positive momentum heading into 2020, but the opponent is one of the hottest teams in the MAC.
Although Buffalo (6-5, 4-3 MAC) didn’t repeat as MAC East champions, it appears to be the team nobody wants to face at the moment. The Bulls are winners of four of their last five, and they have a chance to add an exclamation point rather than a question mark to their bowl prospects by securing a seventh victory.
When Buffalo has the ball
For Buffalo, 2-4 seems like so long ago. A 7-win season seemed out of question after back-to-back losses to open conference play, but the Bulls are improving week-by-week. Outside of a small hiccup in Kent where the team squandered a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter, Buffalo has been as powerful as any team in the MAC to close the season.
Buffalo’s improvement begins with the offense. The same team that failed to eclipse 20 points against Liberty, Miami (OH), and Ohio is now routinely scoring 40 against some of the MAC’s stronger competition. Buffalo defeated Central Michigan 43-20, Eastern Michigan 43-14, and Toledo 49-30 in its last three victories.
Since moving quarterback Kyle Vantrease into the starting quarterback role, Buffalo is 4-1. While Vantrease has only broken 200 passing yards once this season, he has been relatively efficient with seven touchdowns to rival just one interception. Vantrease, who served as the Bulls’ starting punter for the middle of the season, also functions great in short yardage situations. On naked bootlegs and QB sneaks, Vantrease has rushed for five touchdowns in his last three games.
While the quarterback is adding an element of his own to the run game, Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks are the foundations which make the Bulls one of the top rushing units in the country. Patterson, a true sophomore, ranks ninth in the FBS in rushing yards with 1,328. He contributed a career-high 192 yards in last week’s dominant win over Toledo and tied the record for most touchdowns scored by a MAC player in a single game with five. In fact, he was one yard short of his sixth before Vantrease snuck it into the end zone the following play.
Along with Patterson, fellow sophomore Marks is one of the best running backs in the conference. Marks is 47th in the nation in rushing yards and stands just 99 yards short of becoming Buffalo’s second 1,000-yard rusher this season. The Virginia native erupted for a season-high 118 yards against Toledo and continued his five-game streak of rushing for a touchdown. Bowling Green’s defense sits at 123rd in the nation in stopping the run, allowing over 223 yards per game. Last outing was not particularly kind to the Falcons — Ohio starting running back O’Shaan Allison racked up 175 yards and the team registered 342 on Bowling Green’s struggling defense.
Buffalo runs the ball approximately 70% of the time, one of the highest disparities among non-triple option teams in the FBS. Still, when the Bulls pass, Antonio Nunn has been a force to be reckoned with. Nunn enjoyed a breakout debut in 2019 by earning a career-high 113 receiving yards at Penn State. With the Bulls’ offensive resurgence, Nunn has been revitalized too by finishing with over 75 receiving yards in three of his last four contests.
Arguably the unit most pertinent to Buffalo’s success lies within the trenches. The Bulls’ veteran offensive line is one of the strongest units in the country in blocking for both the run and the pass. While the line has caused the Bulls to rank 17th in the country in average rushing yards per game, the unit has allowed just eight sacks — tied for the second fewest in the FBS with Georgia. Since Vantrease became the starter in mid-October, only one sack has been yielded to opponents over the 5-game span.
When Bowling Green has the ball
Bowling Green’s home finale finished in a miserable manner. After competing with Ohio through 1.5 quarters, the Bobcats’ offense caught fire and blew the brakes of the Falcons. Bowling Green was defeated 28-0 in the third quarter alone, resulting in a 66-24 beat down at Doyt-Perry Stadium, the sixth time the Falcons have allowed more than 40 points all season. But when the Falcons dominate defensively, they win. In all three Bowling Green wins, the team has allowed seven or fewer points.
Against Ohio in Week 13, the Falcons offense was shut out the entire second half, marking the seventh scoreless half in 2019. Only five teams score fewer points per game than Bowling Green and each of those teams’ records are worse than 3-8.
Grant Loy will receive the start at quarterback Friday after shattering his career-high with 250 passing yards versus the Bobcat defense. Loy completed a personal-best 21 passes on 65.6% completions, throwing one touchdown and one interception in the loss. A solid bounce-back from a brutal performance at Miami (OH), Loy must continue to step up as he prepares to face one of the better secondaries in the MAC, led by strong safety Joey Banks (70 tackles, three interceptions in 2019).
Bowling Green’s running back situation is interesting, as the Falcons have sparingly played starter Andrew Clair this year. Riddled by injuries, Clair has only played four games this season, meaning he can exercise a redshirt by sitting out Friday’s game. Clair’s absence has paved way for running back Bryson Denley. As the leading rusher and one of the most frequently utilized receivers on the roster, Denley has registered 533 rushing yards and 26 receptions in his junior season. He is responsible for three of the nine touchdowns Bowling Green has posted in its last three games.
Denley receives a tough matchup on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Buffalo is one of eight defenses in the country to allow fewer than 100 yards per game and one of 10 programs to yield fewer than 3.0 yards per carry. The Bulls’ front seven features Ledarius Mack, a defensive end with seven sacks, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery to his name. From the linebacker corps, Buffalo is led by Jaret’s twin brother James Patterson, who has wrapped up ball carriers for 34 tackles this season.
Time and Date: Friday, November 29 at 12 p.m. ET
Location: UB Stadium — Buffalo, NY
Spread: Buffalo (-28.5)
ESPN FPI: Buffalo has 93.7% chance to win
All-time series: Bowling Green leads, 11-5
Last meeting: Buffalo 44, Bowling Green 14 — November 23, 2018
Buffalo has won two consecutive matchups over Bowling Green. The Falcons’ last win over the Bulls occurred in 2016, the final win of a 6-year victorious run in the series.
Buffalo will win this game, easily. The Bulls’ offensive line and running game will cause problems for the Bowling Green defense. Expect not only a huge game from Jaret Patterson, but another strong showing from Kevin Marks may be on the way. Watch to see if Marks becomes the second Buffalo back to surpass 1,000 yards rushing in the regular season alone — no other running back duo has accomplished the feat in 2019. It’s also senior day at UB Stadium, the final home game for notable players including offensive tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk, guard Paul Nosworthy, strong safety Joey Banks, and defensive end Ledarius Mack. Buffalo should send these seniors out on a high note against an outmatched Bowling Green.
Prediction: Buffalo 48, Bowling Green 10