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2019 MAC Football Week One Game Preview: Robert Morris Colonials at Buffalo Bulls

Bulls fans begin to find out whether 2019 is a reload, a rebuild, or something in-between.

Buffalo v Bowling Green Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Buffalo Bulls

The Buffalo Bulls, particularly on offense, looked like it was prepared to carry into 2019 the momentum it gained during 2018.

Sure, when the season ended at the conclusion of the Dollar General Bowl on December 22, 2018, the Bulls were going to lose All-MAC first-team WR Anthony Johnson.

But what Buffalo was returning on offense would have made them an obvious contender in 2019. First-team All-MAC QB Tyree Jackson was scheduled to return. WR KJ Osborne was set to be the primary target at WR based on 2018, with WR Charlie Jones and TE Tyler Mabry assuming bigger rolls. Add one of the better offensive lines in the MAC, Freshman of the Year RB Jaret Patterson, and RB Kevin Marks and you have the makings of a contender on offense in the MAC East.

Then, the unexpected happened. Tyree Jackson announced he was entering the 2019 NFL draft in January 2019. Then WR KJ Osborne, WR Charlie Jones, and TE Tyler Mabry left via the transfer portal.

The offensive losses resulted in a big drop in experience with Buffalo replacing an All-MAC QB with 955 college passing attempts with a QB (Matt Myers) with zero college pass attempts; a WR with 53 receptions and 7 touchdowns with a WR with 12 receptions and 1 touchdown; and a TE with 27 receptions and 2 touchdowns with a TE with 10 receptions.

And the 2019 Buffalo passing game got more complicated with a significant number of camp injuries to the remaining WR group, leaving young players to learn multiple positions. The WR camp injuries were well-documented in an article by Rachel Lenzi in the August 16, 2019 edition of the Buffalo News.

Buffalo recently named Matt Myers as the starting QB. Myers looks to be a QB with a dual-threat, skill-set based on his high school stats where he passed for over 2,000 yards and ran for over 1,000 more in his final year. The game against Robert Morris is set to be Myers’ first substantial college game experience of his career.

All this transition in the passing game leaves some Bulls fans wondering if 2019 will be a reload, a rebuilt, or something in-between.


Robert Morris Colonials

Robert Morris is an FCS team looking to re-establish itself as a Northeast Conference contender after several losing seasons. Head coach Bernard Clark Jr., former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker, took over a program in 2018 that was 20-57 since 2011 and finished 2-9 in his first year as head coach.

The Colonials offense had a jump in production under head coach Clark Jr. last year, averaging 24.5 points a game in 2018 compared with 10 points a game in 2017. The Colonials return many of its offensive starters from the 2018 squad but will be replacing the 2018 starting QB Jimmy Walker. The running game should be a strength of the 2019 squad.

The Colonials’ defense has its work cut out for it after surrendering in 43.5 points and 500 yards per contest in 2018 without having played any FBS opponents. Head coach Clark Jr. focused on upgrading the personnel on the defensive side of the ball, acquiring four defensive lineman and two linebackers in the early signing period in 2018. One of the new signees is Bryce Fontana from Scottsdale Community College, a school which has one of my favorite team nicknames: The Fighting Artichokes.


Key Matchups:

Buffalo Bulls’ running game vs Robert Morris’s rushing defense

If Robert Morris wants to compete it will need to find a way to slow down the Buffalo rushing game. Even with an infusion of talent in the front seven, Robert Morris will have its hands full after allowing an average of 260 yards per game on the ground in 2018.

Buffalo returns what should be one of the better interior rushing games in the MAC, which starts with seasoned offensive lineman right tackle Kayode Awosika, right guard Tomas Jack-Kurdyla, left guard Paul Nosworthy and left tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk. Nosworthy and Ksiezarczyk figure to be in the mix for post-season All-MAC awards.

Carrying the ball for Buffalo will be the best sophomore RB duo in the MAC with 2018 MAC freshman of the year Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks, who in 2018 combined for 1,763 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.

I wouldn’t be surprised for Buffalo to use new QB Myers in a fashion similar to Ohio University Bobcats’ QB Nathan Rourke, with some read-option runs and a passing game which works off of the running game.

Robert Morris’ running game vs Buffalo’s re-tooled defense

Robert Morris is in the same boat as Buffalo, trying to replace its 2018 starting QB with options that have little-to-no college game experience. Robert Morris’ offensive strength, especially early in 2019, will likely be its running game. The Colonials return several starters on the offensive line and two RBs in Terence Stephens and Alijah Jackson who rushed for a combined 1,361 yards and 9 touchdowns.

And with the Colonials defense trying to reduce its 43.5 points per game allowed last season, it would make sense for them to try to shorten the game by running the ball where possible.

Buffalo lost first-team all-MAC performers LB Khalil Hodge and DE Chuck Harris and the game against Robert Morris is a good place to start to find a new identity.

Despite the graduation losses, the cupboard is not bare for the Buffalo defense: not impacted by the transfer portal like the passing game, developing players are ready to assume roll larger rolls besides established starters such as LB James Patterson.

Buffalo returns multiple players with game experience at all levels of the defense including DE’s Taylor Riggins and Malcolm Koonce, DT’s Deshondrick Foxworth and Chibueze Onwuka, LB’s Tim Terry and Kadofi Wright, and CB’s Aapri Washington and Devon Russell.

I would expect Robert Morris to have its moments in the rushing game, a few drives or big plays, but Buffalo’s defense should find its way as the game progresses.

Robert Morris’ X-Factor

If Robert Morris is able to throw the ball against Buffalo, Senior TE Matthew Gonzalez should help make that happen. Last year Gonzalez caught 40 passes for 642 yards and 12 TDs. Gonzalez is a 2019 Preseason All-Northeast Conference selection and could be a threat in the red zone.

Prediction

Buffalo will be able to run the ball to sustain drives and for big gains against Robert Morris’ defense, allowing Buffalo to work its passing game off the running game to make things easier for new QB Matt Myers. Robert Morris’ infusion of talent on the defensive front seven should help it stay fresher and more effective due to an increased rotation, but many players on Robert Morris’ defense have never faced the level of talent they will face against Buffalo’s running game. Robert Morris should find some success on the ground and through the air if it can find TE Gonzalez. Buffalo’s defense should start to gel as the game progress and Buffalo will come away 1-0 to start the 2019 season.

Buffalo 52, Robert Morris 14